The Sunday Magazine

Widespread contagion has become our great unifier — Michael's essay

“We are living through extraordinary times. Most of us are experiencing something we have never seen before. Everything is upended. We can no longer take for granted all those activities we never thought twice about … What was ordinary has become a challenge.”
In an effort to curb panic buying, the North Mart in Iqaluit has put up signs limiting soap, flu treatments and toilet paper purchases to one per household. (Beth Brown/CBC)

I can just about handle the self-isolation. I'm okay with social distancing — especially from a couple of people I could name but won't. And the Toilet Paper Fairy was good to us a couple of weeks ago.

What I am having trouble with is the not-touching-of-the-face. Not touching my face is like trying to eat one M&M. Or one pistachio.

I feel like my face-touching is never-ending. And the people who study such things back me up. 

Surveys say that we touch our faces about 16 times an hour. Even medical people, doctors and nurses, are touching their faces all the time.

Obviously, it's some kind of nervous tic. I wear glasses, so I'm constantly adjusting. I scratch my nose and my beard; I rub my eyes, wipe my lips. I'm face-touching all day.

There are Google hints on how to break the habit. I may explore it further, but really, not touching my face is pretty small potatoes compared to what other people are going through.

We have heard all about the dangers to frontline workers, doctors, nurses and paramedics. But what about pharmacists or hospital cleaners or cab drivers?

Perhaps the coronavirus is to us what the Depression and the Second World War were to our parents and grandparents.- Michael Enright

We are all denizens in or near a strange and rare kind of hot zone.

We are living through extraordinary times. Most of us are experiencing something we have never seen before.

Everything is upended. We can no longer take for granted all those activities we never thought twice about — going to work, going to school, going to the gym, going shopping.

What was ordinary has become a challenge.

Perhaps the coronavirus is to us what the Depression and the Second World War were to our parents and grandparents.

Like wartime rationing, we all have to suddenly pay attention to new rules, new ways of doing things or not doing things.

War analogies are appropriate. The crisis is national and global. Governments are asking us to work together. Industry is enlisted to discover or invent new weaponry. Staying healthy has become a matter of patriotism.

Oddly, we are forming a national community by staying away from each other.

We are learning to be good neighbours by distancing ourselves from our neighbours.

Widespread contagion has become our great unifier.

Those of us asked to work from home find it hard to make the adjustment. No office gossip with downtown colleagues. In fact, no downtown.

In the neighbourhood, all the streets are empty. The schools are closed and the churches, though every day feels like Sunday.

In the morning, I write on small blue index cards what I will do that day. Clear the rubble from my office at home. Bring order out of closet chaos. Finish reading Wordsworth's book-length poem, The Prelude.

We are learning to be good neighbours by distancing ourselves from our neighbours.- Michael Enright

Reading is good. When I'm weary of heavy, well-meaning novels, I flip through my Dickson's Baseball Dictionary or Agatha Christie or watch something on Netflix.

My blue index card says to spend 15 minutes on the stationary bike, but that is so easy to pass up.

But what the hell. If Stephen Colbert can do his program from his bathtub, I can manage at home.

The days seem longer. Everything is matte, not glossy. But there are momentary splashes of colour.

Getting or making calls to distant friends to check on their well-being: "Just thought I'd call to see how you are." 

Stories of kindness and generosity cutting through the grim news in the papers or online. People just helping out.

In the east end of my city there is a house with a small lawn library stuffed with used books for the taking.

This week the owner added something else.

A roll of toilet paper.

Click 'listen' above to hear the full essay.

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