Ever Closer Under Covid-19

by Konstantin Wertelecki

On a cold winter’s morning in early January 2020, it was to great rejoicing that I received that fateful letter so many PhD students around the world anxiously dream to read: ‘Congratulations, Dr’! Elated, and grateful for this news, immediately I began to set about my plans to carry forth my education – to teach as I had so encouragingly been taught, to write such pieces as those which had inspired me, and to research, delving headlong into those crevices of the unknown, unexplored, untouched. Within months, however, my plans came to a halt. One by one, the doors I had envisioned opening before me began to shut, my possibilities dissipate, the world as I knew it came to a complete standstill. Nobody was expecting Covid-19.

For the first few days of my self-isolation, a curling fog of uncertainty forever travelled with me, jesting my inability to foresee tomorrow, never mind a few weeks’ time. An invisible darkness fell about my once familiar world, the face of mortality rearing its unsightly self before me, day after day, hour after hour. Despite the staged confidence I choreographed for my loved ones, a wavering fear eternally remained. ‘Please, stay healthy’, I would voicelessly whisper to them, hoping, perhaps as a simple, selfish comfort, that they wished for me the same.

As the weeks passed and the news only seemed to deliver the unreadable, I felt determined not to let myself lose hope, not to forget to love those close to me, instead of tremble for them. I rejected the doomsayers and the reality-resistors. I strove to answer that burning question on all our minds: how can we emerge better from this? To my surprise, though, I discovered that, in a great many ways, we already had.

In the last decade, borders became an international obsession, to open or to close them, to build them, or to tear them down. Covid-19 helped expedite an answer. Yet, despite these draconian, drawbridge stunts, never closer had we emerged in cooperation. United, citizens have been shifted, equipment delivered, research augmented. Never have we, in one hemisphere of the world, so well understood the experiences of the other. Never so familiar have we all become with a shared experience that has reminded us of our barest essences, stripped of our nationality, ethnicity, or gender. Our cooperation has been revealed to be neither political, medical, or cultural. Our cooperation is human.

‘Environment’ has been another ‘hot’ word of the last decade. An amorphous, expansive concept, drawing to mind luxury-priced commodities and the mistily remembered fantasies of rock-band armies calling to war wild-styled youth for protection of the savage and the free. Today, however, ‘environment’ has never before been so clearly understood as concept. Oppressed within the boxes we, for granted, have taken to be our ‘comfortable’ abodes, only now have we questioned what ‘home’ is. Only now, have we noticed the fresh air we long to breathe around us after such sanitary captivity, walking the small patches of earth that host our communities, opening our eyes to what ‘appreciating’ the environment truly means. Closer, then, have we grown to our true selves, rediscovering our inseparable link to ‘nature’, despite our technological distancing.

Priorities always seemed so simple in the past. A job leads to money, an education leads to a job, a marriage leads to family. Yet, today, these linear paths formulated so tidily to organise the arrangement of priorities have been tangled, smeared, cut. Can work be pursued at the risk of community health? Can life continue without work (in order to preserve community health)? If there is no work, at the expense of ‘saving’ the community, how is the community to be sustained? The paradoxes spin hypnotically in the mind. Yet, never closer have we come to scrutinising our priorities, to determine what really are our priorities and what are not, what we are willing to sacrifice, and for whom.

In short, from my own experiences of the Covid-19 outbreak, I have determined that we have bettered ourselves in becoming more sensitive in our empathy for each other. Upon each other, we have learned, it is most important to rely and support. Closer have we recognised the necessity to strengthen our bonds with our friends, families, and loved ones. Closer we have experienced our suppressed longing for the environment, its inherent attachment to us so strongly revealing itself. Closer have we developed as humans, setting aside our superficial delineations. The question that remains is: What now?

What are to be the lasting consequences of our experiences? The Pandora’s Box of global ‘pandemic’ has been opened, such that our vision of the world as ‘divided’, country by country, ethnic group by ethnic group, no longer holds true. Covid-19 discriminates between no land, no people, no faith. When all of this is over (for, undoubtedly, a vaccine will come) we can, of course, return to the comfortable world we built for easy digestion, as we re-piece the ‘normalcy’ of our lives. Alternatively, we can remember, through the difficulties we have experienced this year, what we achieved to overcome, how we ‘re-experienced’ what we previously thought we knew, and who we became as we grew closer.

A view from my window during my ‘self-isolation’

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