Michael Swan

Ian Hunter: Quarantine does have an agreeable side

  • April 30, 2020

Who knows how long this will last? Certainly not I. Although there are times I think I know as much about this never-before-seen virus as those white-coated “experts” who hold forth incessantly before the camera’s ravening eye. 

The plain uncomfortable fact is that no one knows much about COVID-19. All the big questions — how it began, how it works, who is most susceptible and why, how, or if, it will end, and what the world will look like when it does end — for now remain unanswerable. There is one “expert” whose knowledge I am confident I surpass, and that is the orange-haired stable genius whose late afternoon daily news conferences spray bluster, braggadocio and misinformation across American airwaves.

The actual daily grind of quarantine or lockdown or sheltering-in-place, or whatever the euphemism currently is, I find, for the most part, quite agreeable. Oh, I wish I could get a haircut, or have a workout at the Y, or a meal out, but these are minor inconveniences. 

A month ago I found myself awaking each morning in stark dread of day, but this seems to have passed, as have virus-related nightmares. I find myself somewhat less worried that doctors will become inaccessible, or that the food chain will snap, or that new regulations will preclude taking my dog for a walk. 

I am fortunate to have a quiet, pleasant home within which to shelter. Herewith some random observations as I shelter away.

Quarantine is a lot easier for some people than for others. I have been practising “social distancing” most of my life and have grown adept at it over the years. It used to drive me crazy at the local YMCA how — even if every other locker in the dressing room was empty — the newest arrival would inevitably saunter to the locker right next to mine and want to strike up a conversation. 

I do not find it a hardship to restrict my engagement with passers-by on the street to a nod or a wave. I do not frequent pubs or coffee houses. I have no hankering for group walks or jogs.

When I retired I thought I would lose track of the days of the week. It did not happen — perhaps because certain routines attached to specific days. But coronavirus has accomplished what retirement did not. Most of the time I have no idea what day of the week it is. 

I thought that saying the daily Mass would help, but no: most days I have to ask my wife what day of the week it is to find my place in the Missal. Yet somehow this quarantine Lent turned out to be the richest, most fulfilling of our lives.

Far from watching more TV during quarantine, we watch less. I cannot bear the non-stop coronavirus news — it is all too depressing.

If we watch escapist pabulum I find myself noting every handshake and hug, every crowded thoroughfare where people used to jostle away their lives, every choir practice or gathering, with the same recurring thought predominating: “We won’t be doing that again anytime soon.”

I am a bit surprised at how much I miss two sports on TV: hockey and golf. Well, not hockey, really. I don’t miss it, just the Leafs. 

Before the word coronavirus ever entered my vocabulary, I had steeled myself to the near certainty that the Leafs would never again win the Stanley Cup in my lifetime. But when the NHL suspended play back in early March, the Leafs were clinging to a playoff spot, albeit by their fingernails — and you never really know, do you? Miracles happen. With the size of their payroll alone, the Leafs might have stood a chance.

The PGA, I understand, has postponed, not cancelled the majors, so perhaps there remains hope that we shall yet see some golf this season, with or without public galleries. Watching old tournaments when one already knows the result is about as appealing as watching wrestling in an empty arena — which has not stopped the WWE from offering its customers just that! 

The biggest difference between those who are observing quarantine with relative equanimity and those who are not boils down, I think, to one question: are they readers?

If quarantine lasted for a decade my wife and I would not have time to read the unread books in our house. The libraries, like everything else, are closed, but our home library is amply stocked. Readers are, essentially, content. Virginia Woolf knew that when she wrote:

“I have sometimes dreamt that when the day of judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their reward — their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble — the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy, when He sees us coming with our book under our arms, ‘Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading.’ ”

(Hunter is Professor Emeritus in the Faculty of Law at Western University.)

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