Questions in the quiet

At the end of the workday yesterday, my boss called to talk something through. And I was surprised at my relief in hearing his voice. In this time of social distancing, or for some quarantine, we’re relying more heavily on our online tools, and I think also quickly discovering how inadequate they are.

A friend who lives nearby came over later and sat two metres away in my backyard. We talked for 45 minutes before it got too chilly. Was this high risk behaviour? I hope not. But it’s amazing how, only days into the shrinking of our worlds, it felt invigorating, a physical high. She tweeted after about how good it was, and I replied, “Two metres is the new hug.”

I’ve been doing workout classes online, live streams on Instagram, and a friend remarked how these are better than the pre-recorded videos. The sound isn’t great, and there are awkward angles and mistakes, but somehow they’re much more alive, more human. There’s a sense of doing something together instead of alone, a sense of connection, even if it pales compared to physical presence. It’s interesting that many of us spent so long trying to smooth reality out of our online presences, to create a carefully controlled alternate dimension, and now what we crave is the mess we pushed out of the frame.

I live with my partner, and so get regular human contact, and yet still I’m realizing how many voices, how many physical presences, have dropped suddenly from my life. The morning chorus of birdsong suddenly a solo.

The world is so quiet, so still. Few trucks rumbling by, no honking of horns, no laughter from the street. The spring bulbs are pushing out into a sort of museum of humanity—that same careful spaciousness, that same hush. But what are we curating now? What are we trying to preserve? What is worth our attention, our awe, our contemplation?

I think a lot about what we will take from this great disruption when life returns ton normal. I can hope a love of our fuller humanity, of our local networks, our everyday interactions, our freedom to move, our fragile planet. Will we have a new grasp on the essentials of life? And how long before we take them for granted again, before the full chorus of birdsong is just background noise?

It’s impossible to say. For now, I’ve decided cataloguing absence is a kind of appreciation too. Maybe even an inoculation we didn’t know we needed.