“The World Health Organization on March 11, 2020, has declared the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a global pandemic”
Since this situation started, many of us have found strange unrecognizable words and phrases coming out of our mouths – shelter-in-place, social distancing, lockdown, no contact delivery, curbside pickup. Four months ago, we didn’t imagine we’d be using expressions like ‘panic buying’, and ‘flattening the curve’ for situations other than Black Friday sales or fad diets. ‘Pandemic’ itself, until January, was used only to refer to the Black Plague of the distant past, or Robin Cook’s new book, or probably some science fiction movie with a flesh-eating alien parasite. Now everyone knows what quarantine and hydroxychloroquine and coronaviruses are.
When this year started, we made resolutions to be smarter, work harder, lose the extra pounds, and travel to a few more countries. We wanted to be a better spouse, a better friend, a better parent. And then we heard about a viral outbreak in a remote province in China on the news, but still booked those tickets to Las Vegas and signed up for that gym and registered for that conference anyway. It took us a comically long time to understand the situation we were all in. When we did realize the pathological soup we were in, our brains had to react in urgency with no time left for thought and analysis. One day we were at our desks taking phone calls, the next day we were asked to pack up and leave indefinitely. Some of us were able to carry on almost effortlessly with the shelter-in-place orders, and some others saw their lives upended in front of their eyes. Some contracted the virus and recovered without a trace of illness, and some had to fight for a hospital bed.
In the past few decades as the world changed and morphed around us, we have found our quality of life increasing so gradually that we did not realize when we reached a point of freedom, individuality, and seamless integration of lives around the globe. Far more people travel constantly to other cities, states, and countries for work, leisure, and adventure. This relentless exchange of human resources across the oceans and mountains has made the spread of a virus from China to the Americas and back as easy as rolling off a log. Moreover, trade, education, economy, and technology, have made our individual lives autonomous and our collective lives completely interdependent. Military vessels in the East cannot survive without designs from the West, and mobile technology in the West cannot sustain without manufacturing from the East. So locking down borders to stop the spread of a virus works counter-intuitively when that is also the mode by which to access diagnostic kits and preventative equipment.
It is not just our plans that changed after this pandemic hit us, it is the entire concept of reality around us. Many industrial sectors have realized that in order for the productive operation of a business, a physical structure, an office space, is not the most imperative thing, as previously assumed. Commuting, cars, carbon monoxide, are all taking a plunge, also disproving the theory that humanity just absolutely cannot function without using non-renewable fuel and polluting the air.
With the way things are turning out, it would not be inappropriate to extrapolate what other changes we might see in the near future. We are used to the world functioning in a certain way, and this way has been grandfathered in from the previous generations. Maybe it is time for us to rethink our priorities and revisit our indulgences and accept the fact that things will not be the same henceforth. Our minds, bodies, environment, and even vocabulary, have seen an eyebrow-raising change already, and who is to say that it will change no more? Captain Jack Sparrow once said, quite profoundly and intoxicatedly, “I think we have all arrived at a very special place. Spiritually, ecumenically, grammatically…”, and I would like to think he (being the visionary that he was) was talking about our place now.