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Love in the time of Cholera, Covid-19 and Social Distancing

I read Love in the time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez several years ago and found it… well… strange. Interesting, but strange. Strange stories encourage thinking. My first thought with such is usually along the lines of - Do I find this story strange, because it was written that way or because it’s a translation (Spanish to English). Translations often have an otherworldly feel to them, or the ones I read do, anyway.

This is not a book review , but a thought process. The title lends itself to the current global health crisis. How does one love in such times? Does survival trump love, squash it, restrict it? Does it change love? How do we process our feelings for others? Or is it, in times like these, that many of us discover that we don’t have the faintest idea what love really is? And how much impact does enforced separation through #socialdistancing have on love?

If you haven’t read Love in the Time of Cholera, here’s a quick description. Gabriel García Márquez was born in Columbia in 1927. He was a journalist and foreign correspondent before settling down to some serious fiction writing. His first published fiction work was in 1979.

“Love” was published in 1985. It’s a story about a young couple desperately in love until she gets sent on an international tour by her unhappy father at the end of which she marries someone more equal to her family’s status. He remains in unrequited love for over 59 years. The story is about the couple, separately and together, their loves and losses, their separation, and life during war and plague.

Ramblings on love and other things …

In the news, we see people walking, jogging, wandering apart from each other. 1.5 metres between them, close enough to almost touch fingertips. Fingertips could become a popular erogenous zone - none so tempting as that which cannot be. Love notes, albeit emails and texts rather than on paper, could see a resurgence. New ways of communicating could emerge. Waiting for us on the other side of this time of Covid-19 could be a bright new world.

Until then, we need to learn how to deal with the loneliness of isolation and the feelings of alienation when we switch from a busy office day to solitary desks at home. Yes, we have Zoom and MS Teams, numerous ways of video conferencing, but they don’t compare to real life communication. When talking to people face to face, we not only listen to their words, but read their facial expression, body language, breathe in their smells. And touch - handshakes, pats on the shoulder, quick hugs, or a comforting hand on the arm. None of this is available in a virtual life and this is what we’ll miss the most.

The lucky ones will have family that they’re in isolation with. Hopefully, they all get on. But even then, managing time thrust together rather than the break of going off to work or school will be challenging. The unlucky ones will be apart from family and friends with only video conferencing and 1.5metres of space to share. Many more won’t even have that.

How does one find love, whether it be romantic love, familial love or friendship, under such trying conditions? New meanings to communication will need to be learned, new personal signals to how people are feeling will need to be identified.

There is much more at stake here than we realise. Right now, we’re in survival mode. Enforced time alone can teach us how to think, how to love, how to know what we want love to be.

Have you seen the 1991 film, City Slickers?

In it, Curly Washburn (Jack Palance) and Mitch Robbins (Billy Crystal) are on horseback discussing the meaning of life. Curly says there’s only on thing you need to know about life and everything else will fall into place. Here’s the clip, watch it. I’ll wait.

In analysing people’s reactions to the current crisis, individually and en masse, we need to also remember that Covid-19 isn’t the only disaster we’ve suffered. Disasters, whether they be financial like the Great Depression, violent and bloody, like any war, natural or pandemic leave lasting impressions. The effect can be seen and felt across time and over generations. Survival techniques are passed down through families and society in general.

In recent months, in Australia, we’ve been through severe drought, major weather episodes, bushfires, and now Covid-19. Each experience has built up one atop the other. How much more can people take before switching off to danger, appearing blasé and uncaring in the face of sickness and death? This too is a real survival technique that needs to be explored further.

This time we’re living in, we’re sharing, together and apart, could be our one thing. Quite a few of us have or are about to have a lot of time on our hands as we step into self-isolating zones. Once we’ve figured out how we’re going to survive, let’s spend a few moments figuring out what our one thing is. Let it not be power and riches. Let it be ourselves and each other. Let’s learn to love and be loved. Love isn’t a power trip. It’s not about control. Love is enjoying the company of others, accepting what they have to give us, their truths, and giving back truth and compassion in return. If we let go of the “rat-race” and nurture each other, equally, love will take on deeper meaning.

Now that might be hard, it might even be a naive way of looking at love, but we’ll be happier for it, even for just a tiny bit. And we don’t have to wait 59 plus years to get it.


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