#16: Paralysis

“Every night as I gazed up at the window, I said softly to myself the word, ‘Paralysis’. And it always sounded strangely in my ears… But now it sounded to me like the name of some maleficent and sinful being. It filled me with fear, and yet I longed to be nearer to it and look upon its deadly work.”

James Joyce, ‘The Sisters’, from ‘Dubliners’

I have met few worse fears in my life than the fear of paralysis. As a kid, one of the more frequently occurring themes of my nightmares was the inability to move – a reason why I never asked to be “tucked in” at night. I still have them every now and then. My body jolts as I wake, half-shocked, half-relieved.

I write this blog post as a fortunate and somewhat privileged author. At the time of writing, I have full physical use of my body and its limbs. I might not particularly like my body, but it most of it works. As a white man, I also enjoy a degree of social mobility that I have not, and may never, fully appreciate. I could say, “sure, but I’m working-class too, so that counts for something, right?”

Such is, in my mind, the definition of privilege: I might have a chip on my shoulder, but I can shrug it off, as easily as I shrug off my native accent. The same goes for my chronic mental health conditions: I have the choice of how much I disclose of myself, and who I disclose that to.

And yet, I sit here at my desk, that fortunate and somewhat privileged author, and still feel utterly helpless in the current crisis.

I think of the friend of mine in hospital, starting to show signs of stability, but well and truly knocked for six by Covid-19; I cannot go to see them.

I think of the statistics in the news, and try to put faces to the figures: that 74-year-old bloke; that 50-year-old woman; that 12-year-old girl.

And then, I think of the people around me, some of whom undoubtedly having next-to-no access to food, medicines, and company; I could jump on my pushbike and make a trip for each and every one of them, but what if I had it, what if I passed it on?

A person very dear to me, feeling similarly hopeless about our mutual friend, described this feeling as “agony”. Knowing that you could help, hypothetically – you could make that trip to the hospital; you almost certainly would, under usual circumstances – and at the same time, knowing that right now, you can’t. Paralysis.

Or, maybe I’m thinking about this the wrong way. I’m thinking of what I would do in the pre-coronavirus world, but that world no longer exists; nor will it ever return. As Goldin and Muggah wrote in a recent article for ‘The Conversation’, “The world before this coronavirus and after cannot be the same”.

Caught between the death of the last world and the birth of the next, we are in no-mans-land. A fitting analogy, given the “new wartime economy” we now find ourselves in; the first since World War Two; the only one that most of us have ever known. We must adapt to our new world, and fast.

We can only do what we can do.

Once again, I find myself checking my privilege. As a millennial, I (we), despite the negative effects of social media (the list ever increasing), are the first generation to have been born and raised in a digital age. It takes exactly as long for me to contact a friend in Sheffield as it does to contact a friend in Melbourne (happy birthday, Tia!!) It might not seem like it right now, but still – what a time to be alive.

We don’t have to be mobile, to mobilise. We can ring friends from our sofas. We can write blog posts from our beds. Hell, we can even host quiz games from our laptops (I finally learnt how to use Twitch, people!)

Those among us who are out there, because they have to be, are urging those of us who can to stay at home. This war will not be merely won or lost on the front lines. It will be decided in our living rooms, on our driveways, and under our roofs.

We may feel the agony of paralysis right now, but it is the price we must pay if we can ever hope to meet again.

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