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Apr 13 2020

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Distance makes us appreciate presence

F94D8248-FDFB-43C0-AADD-D89AFDE869CEColumn in the Faroese Women’s Magazine “Kvinna” about the Corona crisis: 

From carefree to nervous worry
February 3 this year I flew from the Faroe Islands to spend a long winter holiday in Cuba with seven girlfriends. Little did we know that a month later we would return home to a reality where everything was turned upside down. Carefree, we enjoyed life in the sun and the tropical heat, thinking very little about what was happening around the world while we were away. Fast forward to the beginning of March. The moment we got off our plane in Copenhagen, we could feel a dark cloud hanging over everything. The media was flooded with horror stories from Wuhan in China and with news of the dreadful Corona virus, which had now spread largely across the world.

The mountains looked like their usual selves when I landed in the Faroe Islands. The sheep and birds were still living their lives as if nothing had happened. My house looked the same as it did when I left. Immediately, everything seemed as it used to, but still nothing was the same as before. The same day, our government issued a call to all to help prevent this horrible infection from spreading in the Faroe Islands. Everyone who did not have essential work to do outside their home were asked to work from home if possible. From one day to the next, all social gatherings were as good as banished, and the whole society almost came to a halt. It felt unreal and shocking that all of humanity was taken off its feet so suddenly.

Being quarantined for so long gives you time to think. Will the disease affect someone I care about? I myself have passed 60 years of age. My childhood asthma means that my lung function is permanently impaired. My kidneys also do not work optimally. Am I in the danger zone? Then there is not least the financial situation. Part of my revenue base has disappeared at the moment. All my Airbnb guests in April have canceled their stay and three concerts I should have played this month have been canceled. No one knows how long this is going to last, so I’m worried. Will I have enough earnings to pay all my bills in the future?

Afraid of each other
I miss people around me. Giving others a hug. I miss a good dinner with the family. I miss sitting with my girlfriends and playing TV bingo with a good glass of wine. I miss the Friday breakfast with my good colleagues. Meeting people online is not the same, although it is definitely better than nothing. But I miss their presence. During my rare trips out to buy essentials, I can tell that people are depressed about their situation. People rush by when they meet on the street. It feels strange having to keep your distance to everyone you meet. Mothers pull their children away from others. We have all become scared of each other. How long will we have to live this way?

Will the fear of being infected affect all social life for a long time to come? How do we avoid being traumatized and humanly poor from all this distance between us? When it’s all over, will we be marked for life? Or will we rise again, like the bird Phoenix of the ashes, stronger, wiser and more present than we were before? Or will we just slip back into our old habits?

Responsibility for our neighbor’s life
Right now we just know that the world has suddenly shut down and is no longer available, as we have been used to for so long. Opportunities we used to take for granted are now cut off. Probably, nothing will be quite the same after the crisis. It is the irony of fate that social distance has made us realize how much presence and community means – as if that is what it takes, so that we can truly appreciate and understand that no one can live completely isolated and independent. We are now learning how our own choices affect others in society and how much of a responsibility we really have for each other. We have become each other’s conscience. We learn that it is literally a matter of life or death, what we do – and what it takes to take others needs into account.

We have in no time adapted our daily lives to show considerations we never really had to show before. After only a week’s time, we changed our habits, and we now grow accustomed to other habits instead. We do so out of a sense of responsibility, of concern and with empathy and hope trying to help our older and weakest citizens. After only a few days, our healthcare system has made extensive changes that would normally take years to implement. We sanitize and clean, like never before. We have changed ancient customs for how we greet each other, and keep our physical distance by living life, communicating, singing together, and going to funerals online. We don’t want to go outside, but if we have to go shopping, we stand at a proper distance from each other.

Basic human rights at risk
At first it seemed easy. Quarantine was almost like getting an unexpected extra vacation. We entertained ourselves on social media and Netflix. Creativity flourished. The situation was unfamiliar and almost felt cozy. But how long will it be fun? It is likely that some people will not be able to handle the distance and the troublesome security measures at length and begin to slack. If many do, there is a risk that the authorities will be forced to use coercion, which may compromise basic human rights and democracy itself. Hopefully that doesn’t happen.

The situation is frightening and almost too big to accommodate because it is not only your life but the whole world that has suddenly changed. When the world slows down so fast and suddenly, and societies shut down, the entire world economy crashes. How will the crisis affect us and our labor market? What about health and food safety? Will we not be able to travel just as freely in the future? Will authorities push for more control over people so that we lose more of our already limited personal self-determination?

Learning to be more conscious, responsible and respectful
No, it’s not worth ringing the alarm bell. Necessity is the mother of invention. Once we get used to the situation, we undoubtedly see other opportunities that we had difficulty finding in the past because we didn’t have to. We know we have not lived sustainably. The world might need to stop for a moment so that the air could be cleansed – both literally and figuratively. Who knows if we in the end might think it was not only bad that we all had to slow down.

The Corona crisis has shown us that we are not as invulnerable as we might have thought. It has given us a chance to see more clearly what really has value. Maybe we needed to really feel how we missed the presence of others to see the extent to which our lives lie in the hands of others. Perhaps we benefit from learning different and creative ways of living and working. Who knows. Maybe all this makes us feel more humbled and a little more aware in the future of the importance of showing more responsibility and respect for others.

Maybe we now learn that it’s not just about “having”, but about “being”. Instead of just unconsciously buying and accumulating things we do not need, we can choose to place more emphasis on values ​​that enhance our quality of life and that are more sustainable – such as cultivating nurture, presence and experiences. When the worst danger of infection is over – as it will be sooner or later – we have the opportunity to continue to choose to keep the world cleaner, healthier and more sustainable. Together, after all, we still have the opportunity to create ourselves a world to thrive in – perhaps even more fun and better than the one that existed before the Corona bomb exploded.

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