I once read an essay in my Master’s class about how, in the wake of the destruction left behind in New York after 9/11, people felt the need to grab hold of a fresh spurt of life and vitality, which is why they turned to more sex, more intimacy. Everything seemed urgent, frenzied and intensely sensual in those first few months after the tragedy.
I think that that’s what’s happening to us now. Our lives were rocked, halted, stalled, suspended in limbo, restarted and then put into a slow-moving coma by a virus.
I was in Galway, Ireland last March when the pandemic broke out in all its overarching intensity. I was thousands of miles away from home, on the outskirts of a town I had barely gotten to know, surrounded by people who looked nothing like me. I had only just begun to knit my new life together when every door around me slammed shut and I was left with the flimsy comfort of video calls and peppy BuzzFeed Tasty videos. I sat on my bed for days and weeks, sometimes emerging from under the covers to look at the time, plug in the charger when my laptop’s power gave out from watching too many sitcoms. Laundry days and grocery shopping trips became highlights of my week, with me contouring and highlighting every inch of my face like a pro, only to cover my newly painted face with a mask. Even strangers can offer comfort and familiarity in the streets – but how can they if you can’t even see their smiles or frowns? When their smiles don’t reach their eyes, it’s easy to mistake pensiveness for self-absorption.
All of us ate and lived out these numerous lockdowns in the same cycle, even if the degrees of angst varied. We felt shocked, then recovered and vowed to take this seemingly small interruption in routine a la banana bread, Dalgona coffee, pilates and yoga videos – in stride. Once this gush of productivity receded, we grappled with the real realities of a pandemic that refuses to abate to this day. We felt loneliness, hopelessness and the inevitable feeling of doom creeping in through the doorway. And then finally, numbness and a slightly liberating sense of carpe diem and essential carelessness in the face of frankly terrifying R rates and daily COVID-19 briefing numbers. I think all of us looked at those graph charts on our phones one last time and then closed those tabs, knowing that worrying couldn’t possibly help anymore.
It was during the second phase of this cycle that we really were forced to confront our basest fears and most importantly, our most fervent desires. We didn’t have anything else to do, and in this way, we looked into the scary corners of our own minds. We began to value things we considered kitsch and ordinary (oh, that beautiful word!). For me, it was the fact that my Mom would insist on video calling me every single day, rain or shine, makeup or no makeup, whether it was for five seconds or ten minutes. Imagine being tethered to life and reality by a thread that depends on WiFi.
I began to feel grateful for everyone in my life who chose to stick around, and my internal razor-pointy peak of ambition slowly began taking on the form of healthy, gentle slopes to make room for long-lasting relationships. My willingness to invest in emotional labour to sustain these relationships bloomed from nothing into everything.
We saw our lives stocked with missed birthdays, anniversaries and a lack of impromptu after-work drinks with our besties and this terrified us, as it should. The up and down nature of the pandemic made us see, in unmistakable terms, how quickly things can change and how adroitly we can adjust to the new normal, whether that’s a good new normal or toxic one. Romance became magical again. We longed to feel the warmth of someone else’s hand in ours, a hug that lasts for just one heartbeat longer and the comforting knowledge that someone you love is walking through your door in the evenings. Tugs of boredom became satisfying things, for they could only arrive once waves of anxiety are not clouding our minds.
To everyone getting married in 2021 (including myself, as it happens), I say only this:
“Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.”
– Robert Herrick
Mehar Luthra is a 28-year-old coffeeholic currently living in the always-rainy town of Galway, Ireland. Not nearly as anxious anymore. Survives on pancakes and will work for Nutella.