A New Kind of Intimacy: the Unexpected Byproduct of a Modern Pandemic

It’s almost time for your 10 am class. You’re a college student—you should be hoisting your overflowing backpack over your shoulder and trudging to class yawning with a cup of coffee in your hand. Instead, you roll out of your childhood bed and over to your laptop for another Zoom lecture. 

Thanks to COVID-19, there are so many people around the world struggling through a vast spectrum of difficult circumstances. There are plenty of people talking about these trials and tribulations, as well as the hard efforts by health care and 'essential' workers, so I thought I’d highlight an interesting outcome of the stay-at-home order instead. 

You click to enter your Zoom class and you see your classmates in their pajamas, your professor’s child on the screen as they run behind them, students doing their work outside because it’s the only place quiet enough, and classmates who struggle to maintain a good enough signal in their remote location to even communicate virtually. We no longer all share one classroom; our personal lives and our struggles are hinted at or even revealed through our screens. 

Later that evening you get in the car and drive through your empty, rainy town to pick up dinner for your family from a local restaurant. You usually sit inside to enjoy your dinner, but since this is no longer an option, you watch as the owner of the restaurant runs out to your car in the rain to deliver your family’s meals. They wait beside your car to be paid, and even as they stand in the rain, you can see the gratitude on their face as they watch another car pull into the parking lot behind you—their business may survive another day. 

As you’re driving home, you stop at a big intersection that is typically lined with cars waiting for the green light. Today, there’s only one car behind you and only one to your left. You don’t just turn up the music and distract yourself with your thoughts as you usually would at this light. Instead, you wonder what their reason is for leaving the house, how they are feeling, and if they have a job and a family to take care of. You feel connected to these two cars. You look at the woman to your left and she’s wearing a maintenance uniform. She’s probably headed to a night shift at the nearby hospital, you think to yourself, and silently send her your thanks. 

You come back in the house with dinner in hand and hear the evening news anchors, with nothing particularly new to share. They do, for a short segment, cover the 7 pm cheer that New Yorkers participate in every evening to encourage their doctors, working around the clock to fight for the lives of their neighbors and friends. These people, who rarely even glanced at the balconies across the street from them, now share chants and cheers, without knowing each other’s names. 

Dinner with your family every night still feels strange after eating in a dining hall with friends for so long, but in between the arguments and frustrations that come with sharing a space, you know that this quarantine is difficult for each family member in different ways. Your younger sister’s struggling to be apart from her newly made high school friends, and worried the time apart will change everything. Your brother’s anxiety is returning under these stressful times. Your mom misses her job and feels desperate to get out of the house; your dad can’t stop checking the stock market. 

Experiencing this quarantine has allowed me to feel closer to and better understand the people in my life, nearby or virtually. You see parts of people that could be overlooked when you’re consumed with the details of your own life. You understand other’s struggles better or get to see where they came from. Quarantine has closed a lot of doors; allow it to open your eyes.