It is not easy to get used to death. If we were less afraid, if we knew what was after it, if we knew whether it was painful for our body when it happened, perhaps everything would be easier, less tragic.
This week 1,295 people have died in Spain. In total, since the beginning of the pandemic, 40,000 lives have gone somewhere at the hands of a virus that we know nothing about.
The statistics, the numbers, and the figures are always there to frighten us, but they have no identity; they are numbers without names, empty. Is this what they meant when we spoke of big data?
Those numbers don’t reveal what happened to the deceased 100, just as I don’t know what color shoes the number 40,000 regularly wore. They are unknown, as unknown as the virus. Perhaps that is precisely its power: to silence us and drive us mute, like a virus, a disease that does not speak, since it has no language – or perhaps it is the language of death, devastating.
The coronavirus undresses us and shows us who we really are. It violates us; it puts us in a Spanish ICU bed until we have to breathe upside down to survive, it makes us become things that we didn’t know we were capable of being, and that are taken out of the worst dystopian world.
We are not as lethal as he is. His battle is quick, while we remain confident that we are bigger, wiser, stronger, just because we are another species. However, he wins by knockout because he handles the story that is moving our time.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, especially after the first wave in Spain, I feel that the fear has been mitigated; it has been dying little by little in those of us who have not been infected as if the virus were somewhat afraid of us — the resistant ones.
After the first wave of Covid-19, summer came. The heat made us think that everything was going to be ok, that we were wearing masks — some, yes; some others refused, some wore it under the nose, others clinging to the neck, and so forth — and therefore we were dodging our luck.
It happens that fear began to mutate and told us that everything was fine, that the heat and the good mood we had lost in March were a thing of the past, and that the mask was just another accessory, just like the scarf in winter or the bikini in summer. The mutated fear was what we needed to maintain certain sanity, to believe that the situation was improving, that we were still in control of the narrative.
I think of the heat in the Caribbean, where I come from, or simply think of Latin American countries and their economies. I think of Caracas, my hometown, which began lockdown before the government decided anything. I believe that those who have been able to do so in Latin America have been wiser than many people in Europe or North America.
Maybe there is a historical memory that takes care of us and allows us to foresee chaos because we have already lived through too many disasters.
Despite everything, Latin America continues to show its lack of privileges in the face of the virus: Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Argentina, and Colombia are leading countries in terms of deaths in the region, while their fragile economies continue to support families and make people go out to the streets to get their bread.
But the same seems to be happening where we least expected.
As in Latin America, to talk about a second wave in the United States is a mockery because they have not even come out of the first one, while in Spain we are already thinking about the third wave in the weeks to come. There are inequalities, even in the ways of narrating the scenario.
Many believe that the third wave in Spain will come with the “saving” vaccine. However, I wonder what would have happened in the United States if that vaccine had arrived four days earlier, one day before the elections? Would it have changed the story?
I think how 2020 continues to reflect how ill-prepared we are to change, how my Venezuelan friends in Spain find it hard to stop hugging and judge you when you don’t. I think about the Spaniards complaining that they can’t go to a bar. My thoughts are generalizations, but many of the stories rooted in our minds are made up of generalizations.
I have thought a lot about grievance and, at the same time, guilt and appreciation during the pandemic. I am thankful that there’s public health in Spain; although it functions poorly, emergency doctors are often mediocre, and their medicine, in most cases, is not preventive. I am thankful for the public health system because many with few resources may now be saved in an ICU, unlike Latin America or the United States or India, where public health is not a citizen’s right but a pain in the gut that is paid for dearly or by begging through crowdfunding.
I blame the politicians for how health care has been politicized. I think about how they use it to make populist criticism and blame the opposition or vice versa. I see death coming in the eyes of politics. That’s why I am thankful for stopping believing that politicians will save us even if we need politics to be more “civilized.”
Just as I do not believe that anyone will save us, except for luck and good care at home or in an ICU, I hardly go outside: I go to the supermarket once a week, see friends sometimes on the weekends, maybe I go for a beer. However, when I wake up the next day, I’m overcome with guilt because I am a population at risk, and possibly the best thing for my condition would be not to go out, to stay at home and not to see anyone, to cling to the non-mutated fear.
I also think that my emotional life has weakened this year. I have been more lonely and hermit, isolated from many people, even from my family. Meanwhile, my professional life has rebounded, and, possibly, I am more of a slave now than five years ago; I work remotely nowadays, and yet I feel more exploited in front of my computer.
I think of all those who have gone from having a job to being riders for some shipping company with unpleasant, poor contracts. I don’t know if I’m lucky or if the context and my professional choice have given me the lights to face this year.
Unlike other friends in Spain, I don’t complain. I have a job, while others don’t even know how they’ll make ends meet; they only see deep emotional holes and debts.
If the new coronavirus has taught us anything, is how vulnerable we are, how we never look at the body and over dimension the mind, and all the systems and structures that we have created with it are destroyed little by little.