Today, I biked through the streets of my neighborhood, carrying a sense of doom, which feels like a hyper alertness this crisis has created. Then, I heard the azan. I could barely make out the new phrasing — the one that calls on people to stay at home — because many mosques have also lowered the volume. But what I thought I heard clearly was the voice of the muezzin breaking before he uttered them, as if he was on the verge of crying. That doesn’t make any sense; it was just my own shaken imagination. Yet, I really can’t imagine a stronger sign of spatial and temporal displacement than mosques in a conservative society closing their doors and telling people to pray at home.
Today, I am on a new vector of discomfort, and I want to open my soul to you for a minute or two. It is somewhere inside me: in my esophagus, in my upper abdomen, and perhaps also in my forehead. I put the thermometer under my tongue several times throughout the morning. My face is burning, not because my body is running a temperature, but out of anxiety. Two weeks ago, I managed to orchestrate a certain state of plunging inside. It included playing certain tracks, mostly classics and opera. I have been trying to re-enact this experience every Saturday. I have called it silent Saturday. I can be quite kitsch. Today, I played one of the tracks: Canon in D Minor. The rendering I like of it is a live recording of an orchestra, and, as I listen, I can hear the coughs of some of the musicians in the recording. I shivered. I rushed to my thermometer: 36.8 Celsius. I feel more embodied by this wave of uncertainty. I am scared for the people I will hurt with my healthy and able body. I am scared of the past wounds breaking open as we slow down and stay still in places where we locked them up somewhere. I am scared of the impossibility of speaking about this condition — about the failure of mediation, the failure of journalism, the failure of language. I am scared of the entrapment of these alien feelings inside us. I find solace in sitting and writing you this.
How can I give you my body now?
When our bodies started to coalesce almost three months ago, we didn’t know the kind of assemblage we were becoming. It was fresh and comforting — a release and, at times, an affliction. It is paradoxical that this new unity manifested shortly before the pandemic struck.
Are we all islands now?
Over 400 years ago, the English poet John Donne wrote: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
And now, are we all islands? Or have we, despite the lockdown and the physical isolation, become even more aware of how connected we are? We communicate with some of our dearest friends like people stranded alone on a deserted island — we send messages in bottles via social media.
“Where are you?”
“How are you?”
“Are you going crazy, too?”
Whether they live in the next neighborhood or on a different continent — it barely makes a difference anymore. Proximity and distance, intimacy even, are gaining entirely new meanings. Touch is a memory.
I think of Angela Merkel’s speech. The way she poetically sums up the emotional and the socio-political dimensions of this crisis, especially in that passage at the end.
“It is when times are hard that we feel the need to be close to each other. We experience affection as physical proximity and contact. Sadly, at present the opposite is the case: today only keeping a distance is a true expression of compassion.”
Is corona messing with our heads? Turning politicians into poets and citizens into visionary prophets of doom?
But I don’t think I can be socially responsible the way Merkel asks citizens of a democratic state to behave. I can possibly, potentially, just about manage it for two weeks. But I don’t want to live the next year or even six or even four months of my life fearing human contact. I don’t want to change into a person who becomes hyper-paranoid about human warmth, which is the most beautiful aspect of life. I want to take risks with people I love and to hold them and be held by them with a clear acceptance of the concept of risk. Safety, for me, has always sat with people.
And in that sense, cosmic lovers have been a warm space full of love and support. Perhaps one of the reasons we found such love for each other a few months ago was that we were each battling some form of sadness and at the same time were in perfect alignment in our desire for happiness. I’m speaking in clichés, but I guess I also see opportunity in this change of pace to do things, like rediscovering writing as a form of communication, rediscovering how to not fear words, how to not be pushed into silence by a consciousness of their inadequacy.
I am not sure that I have written anything from the heart since 2015.
I don’t mind being forced to be still by this moment. To the contrary, I even see it as an opportunity in the moments when I do not allow the panic inside. But I don’t want to be forced into the silence of solitude at a time when the magnitude of the uncertainty and the potential for calamity makes me crave the certainty that comes from the warmth of trusted friendship.
I trust that new possible formations will emerge. I trust that perhaps our time at home will make us craft them, out of newfound vocabulary, newfound language that we did not yet have. My sister sent me this morning this image of an Italian woman smiling with a mask on her face. The caption read: Imparate di sorridere con gli occhi. Learn how to smile with the eyes. It looks like we need to make use of new muscles and make way for the birth of the new.
In just a few months, we’ve been catapulted into the future, the future we’d always been afraid of, the future that has been the source-material of prophets, politicians and sci-fi movie makers for centuries.
In the future, every day is today.
Today, as I walked the emptied streets of my city, I felt my soul expanding for the second time this year. The first time was when I met you, cosmic lovers. Both times, it was an experience mediated through the body. The many arms of the cosmic lovers enveloping me, allowing for a different sensation of the world outside, a softening of boundaries, a reordering of physical memory. Let go. Let go. The once-crammed streets that made the body harden at the prospect of aggressive passersby, pollution, unsolicited noise. Now, there’s only the wind blowing unobstructed through the streets, like one big, beautiful inhalation.
Today, I walked down the empty streets of my city, through fragments that whispered what we are going through: discarded gloves, masks that had once pressed against unseen mouths. It was not unlike a deserted warzone of a spring past. I strike out in search of a thought: How will we remember this, down the road, if we live to remember it? Am I striking out on this interrogative quest out of hope or a wish for an imminent end to this state of suspension we are in? It might simply be the curiosity of how time will record the event. What will it preserve and what will it erase?
We bow to the invisible, to those whose bodies parted for us to be able to see and to natality in times of pandemics.
We knew it first. This will be a cosmic year.