And We, Online, Rejoice with You

By Emily Spacek

“I don’t feel so good,” hits differently when heard aloud during a global pandemic.

When my boyfriend approached me with his hand on his forehead during day 13 of our 14-day window of caution since traveling through San Francisco, a coronavirus hotspot, of course I couldn’t help jumping to the conclusion that he—no, we— were sick.

99.9… 98.3… 97.8… 97.9… Okay, so our thermometer is a bit shoddy, but reading numbers within this range only, we calmed our horses a bit.

By the next day, we chalked his fatigue and grogginess up to allergies and, one Zyrtec later, he was feeling fine again.

It was a minor scare, one I am sure many, many people have had since the coronavirus outbreak. Although it did not manifest into illness, during the one night of my certainty, I contemplated some of the difficult questions that perhaps others have also had to revisit during this time.

Can humans transfer the virus to cats, and, if so, should I give mine away? When is it appropriate to tell our families? What happens if we get too sick to take care of one another? Am I prepared to die? Am I prepared to watch my partner die?

At night, on the phone, my mom talks about bickering with my father as tensions rise due to the close quarters of quarantine. But she also talks about going on daily walks with him, about road trips she’s planning with him in the future.

On social media, I watch a friend post about delivering freshly cooked meals to her roommate’s door as she self-quarantines. Not afraid, only concerned with extending her love.

Looking back on that night now, none of the scenarios I played through in my head involved leaving my partner. My safety was in a companion, and we’d be sick together for better or worse.

For better or worse.

On Wednesday, March 25, my 84-year-old grandfather remarried to the second love of his life, broadcasted over Zoom for family and friends.

A wedding during a pandemic? Announced only days earlier, it seemed almost absurd. But he is a man of great faith and sought the blessing of God and family so that he could physically move in with his beloved during a time when they both needed another body for solace.

While it was certainly quirky to watch this elderly couple tie their knot over a technology so foreign to them, it was also touching and, for me, important in knowing my grandpa would no longer be alone.

Weddings, business meetings, even dinner parties, perhaps coronavirus will alter human rituals beyond its duration. What I know it won’t alter is our human need for companionship and connection to combat the stress, anxiety and loneliness of even normal daily life.

Still, loneliness, I’ve learned, is a subjective feeling. It arises because of the absence of other essential feelings: closeness, trust, affection and community.

Pet adoptions are up. So are filing documents for a divorce and calls of domestic violence,  and modifying child custody. I think the strife is telling. I think the empathy and reconnection I’ve witnessed between friends and lovers also tells.

Maybe part of making it through this pandemic will be learning that we don’t necessarily need a physical companion to overcome loneliness. Maybe another part of it will be learning that we do, very much, need them.

This article was originally published on April 8, 2020.