Updated: May 27
Borders are closing down everywhere. Fronteiras fechadas.
North to south, east to west, island to mainland, cidade to quinta, the familiar crossings and bridges are ominously deserted these days as the novel coronavirus spreads over the globe.
We're ensconced in our cocoons, trying to stay within the confines of the current standard deviation between x-axis rates of infection and y-axis rates of death. Each country, state, região, distrito—is different, but over time the numbers eerily converge toward similar ratios and deadly curves.
News in all languages is bad. With walls closing in, how do we cope?
Yesterday it hit me that social distancing is an inaccurate description of what is happening to us: rather, it's physical distancing.
We're apart, yes, but not alone. Thankfully we're connected these days through fiber optic channels and sonic networks unimaginable to our steamship and buggy-riding ancestors. Surrounded by shiny screens with names and calls and faces...and bizarre little videos of Italian mayors cursing to wayward pedestrians and wobbly penguins wandering the Chicago aquarium and people trying to ski off their couches. My cat reminds me often that he has prioridade in my life, bumping over phones and tablets to take center stage.
Borders are closing out there, but inside I'm hearing from old friends in Mumbai and Calcutta, Venice and Barcelona, from MS-bearers in Minnesota, from musicians in the San Francisco Bay. I'm hearing disappointment across the entire political spectrum, from radically progressive to conservative and reactionary. Governments are failing. Churches are failing. People are failing. I'm hearing angst over cooking, sleeping, shopping and reading, over watching too much Netflix and neverending news. Indoors my borders are permeable, ideas and images seeping like osmosis from high pressure to low, diffusing into every corner.
On a spectrum of neurolinguistic variance, I guess I'm fairly accustomed to borders, with early training in how to change up my delivery at each crossing so as not to rattle the inhabitants. It became my life’s work to spy-myself across borders wherever necessary, searching out the learning style of a student in the back of the class, the syntax of a new colleague, the nuance of a neighbor, the fear-triggers of a friend.
Before I could walk, every few months I'd be placed in a dresser drawer in the back seat of the family Opel while we drove from Leiria through Coimbra to the Spanish border. Passports had to be stamped to avoid visa-violation. Later in school years my Alliance Française teacher called me Joie, echoing the original Latin joia meaning joy, not jewel. In summers when we visited my Grandma's cousin in Blankenheim, we'd be told not to mention the East German border that ran through nearby fields, the crops as oblivious to political reality as us kids hanging on for tractor rides. When I crossed the Iron Curtain years later as an exchange student, I could sense the atmospheric drop like the close passing of a ghost, chilling the air as if I were the dangerous and rebellious opposition, the pussy-rioting hooligans...Хулиганы!
Like Médecins Sans Frontières I have crossed borders to help cure upset anguish and bandage broken hearts, to pour salve on lacerated egos and excise vulgar insults.
The downside is that my own boundaries are truly poor, made porous in a childhood confused by the clash of Anglo-Saxon parental dominion over Iberian reality. Bowlby calls it attachment insecurity. I felt it as a castle with no defense, a shelter without doors. To all of you who got the brunt of whatever avoidant-dismissive-anxious-ambivalent cooties I picked up, I am sorry.
Many of the things I'm hearing these days—the uncertainty, the daily anxiety, the novelty of lockdown—feel quite familiar.
What has been dependable in life has taken on the impermanence of rushing waves, soaking habitual terrain.
What is constant is change itself. Nice going, Heraclitus, you won the Pre-Socratic pool.
Only the invariant speed of light shines across all borders and time-frames, impervious to conversion. So steady this unexcitable ray, Sun Ra deity of ancient temples, Einstein nearly called his Relativity the Theory of Invariants! (Perhaps the social sciences and humanities would have left it alone then, instead of using it so to justify contingent human folly.)
Uncertainty means we do not know if a symptom will worsen before a planned event, if trauma will nudge a reflexive response all the way to paralysis, if life will trip along the lesser or better known path through the forest....
I don't know if tomorrow will be like today. Come to think of it, I never did.
27 MARCH 2020