A few issues back, I made somewhat of a promise that Byline would be a Covid-free publication for the 2020-21 academic year. As you will find out if you choose to keep reading, I am about to blatantly break that promise, and wanted to give you the option of skipping over this week’s Editorial if some misanthropic pandemic musings aren’t something you’re up for reading right now. I won’t hold it against you, believe me.
The day on which I am writing this Editorial – October 22nd, 2020 – marks the official beginning of the Republic’s second state-sanctioned coronavirus lockdown, and the official end, evidently, of many an altruistic tether in our society.
I spent last night – the last night – eating dinner on Princes street, a lively and welcome slice of European dining culture ushered in to Cork city as a lonely positive consequence standing tall in the pandemic’s otherwise burning trail. I ate some of the best pizza I’ve had in a long time (fair play to Oak Fire) and had a class night which left me feeling uncharacteristically continental. But undeniably, there was something about the whole evening which just felt a little bit weird.
The street was packed for a start, and that definitely had something to do with the lurking – though easily ignorable – ominous vibe that stuck under me for the night. I was surrounded by smiling, happy faces splayed out metres apart across the pavement in their groups of two-to-four, drinking merrily as though it were the last days of Pompeii – one final blow-out before the whole place goes under.
I suppose this isn’t a reaction that I can blame anyone for having. If you tell a city full of people that tomorrow, their city – or at least, all that they love about their city, all that makes them yearn to live – will cease to be, then of course they will lend their final hours of ‘normality’ to a fit of desperate indulgence – sure, what else should they do? What else can we do?
It wasn’t the city-wide pouncing on the limitations of our country’s Covid restrictions that bothered me, however – it was something deeper-set; something underlying the broader ideology of what we were all doing there on that street; something between the cracks of that grin-littered pavement that was threatening to come up and bite. It was this: the frivolity of it all. That shamefully obvious but unspoken collective feeling that the pandemic – and its ensuing restrictions – are just impediments to our lives rather than very real parts of them that need to be dealt with and respected. We keep talking about ‘the new normal’, but I would hasten to say that we are yet to leave the old normal go.
Our country’s current situation is dire, and a shift in the public ideology is the only way to truly pull us from the gutter. Covid is not something that is happening to us; Covid is simply something that is happening – its effect on us is purely coincidental. Until we can see past ourselves and view this virus for what it truly is – not just how it relates to us – we will never truly beat it.