Back To Normal


I went shopping today. At the door, there was a young man, spraying disinfectant on a cloth and wiping down the handle of the shopping cart. There were directional markers at the end of each of the aisles: green arrows on the odd numbered ones, and stop signs on the even ones. By the check out desks, there were markers on the floor, saying stand here. They were six feet or more away from each other, so when you were in line, you weren’t too close to the next person in line. The check out positions had Plexiglas screens. The woman at the checkout was wearing a mask and gloves. Because I had my own shopping bags with me, I had to do my own bagging, but I couldn’t put my bag on the checkout counter. I had to fill them in the basket.

Shopping in the time of COVID-19

There were a number of people wearing masks in the store (I was one) Virtually all of the staff were wearing masks and rubber gloves. That was progress from a week ago. The last time I popped out and ran to get a few things to tide us over, the workers were less well protected. People have risen to the challenge of keeping social distancing and staying at home quite well, by and large.

But not all of them.

There was one young woman, dashing up and down the aisles, ignoring the arrows and stop signs and pushing past anyone who was in her way. She wasn’t wearing a mask. She wasn’t wearing gloves. She didn’t wait in line in the marked spaces, but pushed up behind the man at the checkout and started loading her shopping on the belt right next to his. Clearly, none of the precautions we were taking applied to her.

Neither, apparently was putting her shopping cart into the collection area. She left it in the parking space next to her car and drove away.

Now, if you are young (She couldn’t have been over thirty) it is easy to imagine that the advice to avoid the COVID-19 virus isn’t really important. Because it seems that the younger you are, the less the virus affects you. Many under twenties don’t even realize that they are infected. They are, in the jargon of our times, asymptomatic. 

But for all I could tell (Since there is no way to tell) she might have been infected. She might well have been spreading the virus all over the store. And at the age of seventy two, with a history of chest problems, I am what they call “at risk.” If she has an elderly parent or grandparent living, or a friend with diabetes, or heart problems, they, too,  are “at risk.” 

That means at risk of getting very ill; at risk of dying. And the thing is, from the outside, you can’t easily tell who is at risk of spreading the disease, or at risk of being killed by it. So, if, like the young woman in the QFC, you ignore the guidelines (in the case of the aisle markings quite literal guide-lines) you are, intentionally or not, making a clear statement: I don’t care whether you live or die.

Now I am sure that if I could have stopped her and put this point to her, she would have been very surprised. Shocked, maybe, and quite possibly insulted and outraged. But that’s what it amounts to, whether she likes it or not. Because for once in our communal lives what we all do, how we all behave, can have literal life or death consequences for ourselves and those around us. By ignoring the instructions to stay at home, wash our hands and avoid close contact with each other we kill one another.

Oh, not everyone. Fortunately, nothing like everyone. But to the woman who posted on Twitter her confusion and distress in the form of “How can this have happened? Yesterday I had a husband and now he’s gone. Just GONE!” to her, it is not abstract. To each and every person who is ill, or dies or has a loved one die, it is up close and personal. Those of us who follow the rules don’t matter. It’s the ones who ignore the rules that break our hearts. 

We are all statistics, and the statistics are us. 

And each of us, you, me and the woman in QFC can save a life – or finish one. 

She wasn’t the only one ignoring the rules, by the way. I was in a sweat by the time I got myself out of the store. Because if there had been people walking through the store randomly shooting guns you can be sure there would have been some notice taken. But that’s only because gunshots are so loud. The results can be the same, though. Pain. Distress. Death.

It is literally vital that we look out for each other now. It is the only way that we will, as a society, as a country, as a species, come through this. I don’t think it has ever been as clear as it is now that we rise and we fall together. And the mere fact that you might be young enough or healthy enough to survive shouldn’t be any kind of excuse for putting others at risk. 

To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin at the time of the Revolution, “Gentlemen, we must all hang together, or surely, will all sicken and die separately.” 

And the thing is, it’s so easy to help each other.

It’s more a case of not doing things than making some Herculean effort. Just stay at home. Just stay apart. Just wash your hands. Just treat each other as if we mattered. Because more than ever it is obvious that this is what will bring us through. Doing unto others as you would have them do to you. 

The name of this Blog is “Don’t Be a Dick”. And I am happy to say that most of the customers (and all of the staff) at the store were definitely not being dicks. They were being careful, for the benefit of the good people working there, to make sure that we can all keep on hiding at home. They were being respectful of other people’s safety. They were being careful, because perhaps like me, they are “at risk.” They were thinking about other people, because others were thinking about them. That’s how this works, people. That’s how we get through this. By not being dicks.

And, I should like to point out, when all of this is over and done with, and we can meet and touch, and hug and kiss the ones we love, whom we have kept safe by being apart, the same thing will still be true 

It is ONLY by looking after each other and taking care of each other that we survive. Today, tomorrow. Always.


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