The other day, a friend of mine told me that he is actually nostalgic about the beginning of quarantine. My gut reaction was to yell “yes!” and then to question why either of us felt that way. His perspective is that early on, there was hope. All of the news footage of empty city streets, the Italians singing from their balconies with neighbors to keep some kind of social contact. There was something romantic about the world responding in concert to crisis.
At this point, it seems that it will never end in this country, and more specifically in this state. All that news evidence of cohesion and care for one’s neighbors was distant from us: Philadelphia, New York, Seattle, Europe. And all the social media stories of porch concerts with people sitting in their adjacent yards to listen? With the exception of those in my personal and professional circle, I have not seen such efforts here.
Instead, I’ve seen lines of people waiting to get into bars and into tight church spaces. I’ve seen throngs of unmasked people parading within a foot of one another as they enter the grocery store. Instead, on my first foray into Statesboro after a month of strict quarantine, I was made to feel odd for wearing a mask, and some people intentionally infringed upon my personal space to prove a point. I became afraid to leave the house again, and to this day have only set foot inside a handful of establishments: the pharmacy, Two Guys, the UPS store, and Shogun to pick up takeout. Even now that masks are mandatory, I am confronted with people in every space I enter who refuse to wear them, and act like I am dramatic when I stand 10 feet away.
With the opening of the university, my heart has sunk deeper, moved into a panicky freeze. I know most students are doing the right thing, but there is no equity here. Some of the most conscientious students are the ones ending up with COVID-19. Other students are brazenly political about their refusal to protect those around them, which is a symptom of our state government’s dogged insistence that we are all islands, and no one else’s health should be our concern. Masks have become politicized, when really, no one is harmed by wearing them, and people might die if we don’t. What will it take for us to care more about each other than a soapbox?
At the start of this global pandemic, it seemed that there might be some common goal to protect those around us, strangers or not, and yes, I do experience nostalgia for that time. The time when we believed we’d get out of this because people would do the right thing. The column I wrote during that first month is one full of light and gratitude.
My friends in other states and other cities are still reporting on the power of choosing to inconvenience oneself for the betterment of the whole. I yearn for that. I yearn to see this city step up and sacrifice a little bit of comfort, social capital, money. It seems like what my mother would call a “little wish,” to ask for temporary discomfort in exchange for human lives.