shot in singapore (feb 2020)

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about how much this coronavirus pandemic has changed day-to-day life. News about lockdowns, unemployment claims, and state of emergencies is constantly inundating our newspaper headlines, our devices, our lives. I see presidents, prime ministers, and Ministers of Health on the TV every day, answering the same questions. I’ve also seen pictures and videos of cities — Rome, Paris, New York City — once bustling but now barren. I’ve seen an empty Champs-Élysées during mid-day, a Times Square that broadcasts bright advertisements for maybe three pedestrians below, cathedrals in Rome that sit empty, collecting dust.

That change has been startling to witness but what has been even more dramatic for me to see has been the change when it comes to interacting with another human being. Everything that was once so normal and standard — a hug, a handshake, a quick kiss on the cheek — has gone out the window. Contactless delivery is a “winner” in today’s world.

Before this pandemic, I don’t think I ever realized (or even stopped to think about) how much “normal life” revolved around the physical closeness of bodies, both of friends and family but also strangers and new acquaintances. How much it revolved around the intimacy of simply sitting at a table for 2 or a table for 10.

Bodies packed together at a concert, swaying along to the same rhythm. Bodies close together at a wedding, a fancy dinner, a corporate meeting, listening to the same “I do’s”, business negotiations, or friendly banter at the same time. Bodies together on the same airplane eating the same bland food or on the same bus going to different destinations. Sweaty hands touching the same few pieces of gym equipment, sweaty bodies moving in unison in the confines of a hot yoga studio. Two bodies across the table sharing a meal at a restaurant. Twenty bodies, sitting at desks, in a classroom. Two thousand bodies in a worn-down gymnasium, watching each of their peers graduate.

A handshake with a stranger. A peck on the cheek of a boyfriend or girlfriend. A hug shared with your best friend who is sad. A hug given to a complete stranger who has done you a favour.

Before this pandemic, I don’t think I realized how “together” we were in regular life. I didn’t realize it until the togetherness was all stripped away, until we were left to socially distance and isolate ourselves.

Now, on walks in my neighbourhood, I see friends set up lawn chairs and space them out on their driveways so they can chat. When I’m walking and see somebody else coming down the same sidewalk as me from the opposite direction, I swerve and go onto the road to walk. The first few times I went on a walk when quarantine started, I’d feel awkward doing this, unsure of my own movement and uncomfortable because of how unnatural it seemed.

When I go past them — them on the sidewalk, me on the road 6-feet apart — I say hello and wave, grateful for even that opportunity. That’s about the most human contact I get with strangers nowadays.

In grocery stores, I get nervous when a person comes too close to me, despite the fact that both of us are donning masks and plastic gloves, sorting through the grapes or apples we want to buy. Why do I get nervous? Do I think they have the coronavirus? Honestly, I don’t. But now, the fear of getting too close to anyone — of stepping into their bubble — has been imbued into all of us. It’s only been a month but I’m not used to it anymore. I am only used to the 6-feet gap between myself and anyone else.

The other day, it was the 1-year anniversary of Kawhi Leonard’s legendary buzzer-beater in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. To celebrate, the Raptors Instagram account was posting raw and edited footage of those 4 bounces that led us to victory. I remember watching the footage that day and the thing that stood out to me the most was seeing the crowds again. The crowd in the stands of the Scotiabank Arena. The crowd in pubs and bars across the nation. The crowd gathered outside Scotiabank Arena in Jurassic Park, cheering together. Their bodies were packed together like sardines. There was no 6-feet of distance. It didn’t even look like there were 6 centimeters of distance between bodies. I marveled at how different things were a year ago, even just a few months ago.

They always say that you don’t know how lucky you are to have something until you no longer have it. I feel that with this COVID-19 pandemic. I never realized the extent to which we, as humans, gather in social settings nearly every moment of our day. I never realized the extent to which we are constantly hugging, kissing, and touching each other to communicate or just to say something as simple as “I am here.” I never realized the extent to which every setting of our lives — school, work, play, travel — is dependent on us not being separated by a 6-feet distance.

Before this all hit, I don’t think there was ever a moment where I’d be shaking somebody’s hand and thinking, “God, I’m so lucky to be touching their hand.”

Once the bans start to lift and we start running back into the open arms of each other, I think I’m going to start reminding myself that yes, I am lucky.


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