There are thoughts I don’t want to allow myself to think. There are thoughts that I am not allowed near, for fear that thinking the thought makes it true. There are thoughts that I am not allowed near because of how hard they are to think, to picture, to hold in the mind. There are thoughts that are both.
Not without sadness, but nevertheless cheerfully, we go about our days. Hello, how are you? Nice to talk to you. Yes, I’m struggling too. I’m sorry to hear it’s been so hard. After all this is over, we should get a drink. Post-pandemic, let’s hang out. Once people are travelling again, you should come stay by us.
What if there is no after? I have never been a technology optimist. I have never believed that we will invent ourselves out of the struggles we have to share. I was suspect when smart phone apps were hailed as the solution to this or that problem. The “Information superhighway” becomes the dark and terrible corners of the internet all too easily. I believe that solidarity and caring are underrated solutions, chemistry and robotics and programming overrated.
So why should I believe that there is a magic vaccine waiting for us, on the other side of tomorrow? Why should I think I will live to see an after this? Because I am young, and life stretches out before me? Because I am healthy, thank God, and I have the means to stay that way? Many others have had these advantages. They did not live to see the end of the Virus. They did not live to After.
It is not that I believe the disease will or won’t catch up to me, that I am in danger. It is that I am curious about what we are not admitting to ourselves about what it means that this virus is here. Perhaps it is a matter of how young I am. I am of a generation that could not stop climate change. We watch powerless as the waters rise, the storm grows more severe, the species grow rarer, and then disappear all together.
We are no strangers to grief, titanic grief, grief beyond the limits of ourselves. And yet, we entertain the idealism of our grandparents and parents, who run the papers, the news stations, the governments, and of our children, who naturally have not seen what we have seen yet. Oh, there will be a vaccine next year? I’m sure there will. Yes, I love you too. Yes, I can’t wait to see you, after all this is over.
But what if we began with: the world has changed, as it will always change. It has changed disastrously. We must grieve the old world, as we welcome the new. We must hold each other tightly, as one by one we are picked off. We’re all in this together now. After all, what comes after life?