What started as a quirky Valentine’s Day gift may all too soon become a necessary tool for survival. Avril and I had a good giggle about heart-embossed toilet roll a month ago, never realising what an essential and valuable gift she was giving me. The current run on toilet rolls, and other basic survival items would be hilarious were it not so serious. It is said that everyone grieves in their own particular way, well it is certainly true that most of us panic in a communal way. It began with some joined-up thinking; as the first microscopic molecules of Covid_19 were making their merry way towards Europe, someone realised that much of the world’s supply of toilet paper originated in China. This has prompted remarkable scenes across the world, where once civilised and reasonably well-mannered individuals end up fighting among the emptying aisles of supermarkets for the last available stocks of hand gel, wipes, bars of soap and yes, toilet rolls! Where snowstorms send us rushing to snap up the pans of bread, the looming threat of isolation sends us scuppering for that which we once took for granted.
The key to this behaviour is fear, but also a deeper unease. The uncertainty of how long this crisis might last has helped us realise that packs of white pan will not see us through, sales of bread making books have gone through the roof as people prepare for the long haul. If we are going to be isolated, we are going to be prepared and well-stocked with the essentials.
However, that fear of isolation has resurrected another old favourite of the Irish psyche – individualisation. A number of people have rightly pointed out that if you buy up all the soap and hand gels, you leave all the people who might have the dreaded virus without the basic essentials that might stop them sharing the virus with you. More seriously is the mass buying of face masks rapidly reducing the stocks available to those who actually need them, those with the virus and medical professionals (remember, the masks are useless in protecting you from Covid 19 – they are much more effective on the faces of those who have already contracted the virus, in stopping them from spreading the molecules when coughing or sneezing. Our panic and our individualistic self-centredness are actually increasing the risk of more people getting sick. We are rapidly losing our ability to be community, to look to the needs of others before our own.
There is a video emerging on social media that I haven’t yet had the courage to share. It is a mini-movie of a group of people waiting in the morning rain at a pedestrian crossing. All of the people are wearing face masks, which is just as well as one of the men is coughing quite heavily. He clears his throat and removes the mask to spit the phlegm onto the ground in front of him, which happens to be covered in water. As he replaces the mask, a passing car hits the water and sprays every single one of them from head to toe. It is important to make every effort to prevent the spread of this and every virus and vomiting bug that we encounter but it is critical that we don’t lose sight of the value and vulnerability of others; nor the importance of caring and sharing for everyone: It’s called Love and it literally keeps the world going around no matter what hits us.