Read: How the pandemic will end
But what are we without community? After all, experiencing art, sports, music—life—together is something we all need, and something that often unites us, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, or any of the other things that frequently divide us.
I recently finished writing a novel about a fictional pandemic, and throughout the process I spent a lot of time examining fear without realizing that sadness is what I’d actually feel the most when one really happened. I’ve grieved for those who are likely to lose their business or home. I’ve been sad because I hate for my children to be afraid, and also because I miss them. Two weeks ago, I could drive an hour and see them, wrap them up in a hug. But I can’t do that now without fear of exchanging the coronavirus. I can’t see my parents, now in their mid-70s, without worrying that I might give something to them too.
I’ve always loved moments of community, in groups big and small: the comfort of congregating every Sunday for services at the Church of the Good Shepherd; the neighborhood picnic where we all carried out covered dishes to share; Saturday nights with friends drinking gin and tonics, sitting close enough to hear one another over the loud music and the swarm of people pressing close to the bar. I recall book-club meetings and public readings and crowding 40 people into our house for a cocktail party—“The more the merrier!” I kept saying as people showed up.
Still, I’m finding ways to create community. Our Episcopal church has gone fully online, and when we used to shake hands or embrace to pass the peace, we now type “Peace to you” or “The peace of the Lord” into comment boxes as we watch together on Facebook Live. Virtual book clubs are becoming more numerous on Twitter, and Luddite-leaning writers like myself are meeting with them more and more.
One of my favorite moments of community happens every day at 5 o’clock, when Kentuckians gather around their laptops and televisions to watch our recently elected governor, Andy Beshear, address the commonwealth. We assemble the way people used to scoot up close to the radio for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fireside chats. Beshear has become beloved because of his reassuring yet straightforward response to the crisis. Like a firm but loving Mister Rogers, he makes us feel informed with his updates, gently chides groups who are not following social-distancing rules, and offers a much-needed sense of routine. Now text threads, memes, and entire online communities have formed around his daily addresses. He’s asked us to share positive images from our day with hashtags such as #TogetherKY. The governor is so popular that he has bridged the partisan divide, with Republicans and Democrats united in their appreciation for the liberal governor’s decisive actions.