If anyone is rejoicing at the arrival of the coronavirus, it’s the Spanish dogs. We humans are on absolute lockdown, allowed out only for strict necessities, and subject to fines, even jail time, for noncompliance. But with a canine on the end of a leash, you can roam freely, so locals are sharing their dogs with neighbors in a daily rotation. Every dog in the city is basking in its newfound popularity and buff physique — although they’re also pretty exhausted, paw-weary, and ready to go on strike unless they get more treats to keep up their strength.
In New York, a foster dog is the latest quarantine accessory, right up there with hand sanitizer and masks. City animal shelters have depleted their entire supply of canines as people realize it will be more fun to shelter in place with a furry friend for comfort and companionship. Dogs are a blessing, but also a responsibility. In Hong Kong, two dogs tested positive for COVID-19, launching a flurry of creative homemade protective gear.
Officials are not recommending protective gear for pets, so don't worry if yours are seen on the street clad only in their birthday suits. Scientists reassure us there are no documented cases of animal-to-human transmission, and it’s possible the virus is now adapted exclusively to our physiology. You can keep cuddling Fido and Fluffy, who are probably thrilled to have you around 24/7. “This morning I saw a neighbor talking to her cat,” a friend emailed me this week. “It was obvious she thought her cat understood her. I came into my house, told my dog..... we laughed a lot.”
By week whatever-this-is of quarantine, many of us have an entirely new appreciation of frivolity. Most of us went into lockdown with grand thoughts about using the time productively, perhaps perfecting our Spanish, mastering the ukulele, and/or reading the world’s longest novel (which for the record is the thirty-volume Artamène ou le Grand Cyrus by Madeleine de Scudéry published in 1649 – 1654.). When the pandemic hit, I was deep into writing a book about our Mediterranean Comfort Food Tour, and at the news we were soon to be housebound I thought, “Great, I can finish the book in no time!” You know how much I’ve written? Not one word.
And that’s OK. Because I’ve finally realized that the universe hasn’t given me a sabbatical for accomplishing projects, it’s thrown me a staggering challenge requiring every scrap of my strength and resourcefulness. Look at the spot we’re in. Our lives have been disrupted on every level. The entire planet has been invaded by a deadly hostile force we can’t see or contain or counteract effectively. Our future is uncertain. We are weighed down with constant unwelcome news. My routine activities include disinfecting all groceries and their packaging, sanitizing my hands and shopping cart, and re-arranging my entrance hall into an ever more efficient decontamination chamber.
Is it any wonder I can’t find time to read a 30-volume novel?
A grief counselor once told me that in the face of profound loss (such as a loved one, a job, a home, or a way of life) our bodies react physically in ways we don’t always expect. We feel tired, eat too little or too much, can’t concentrate, lose sleep, lack creativity, find ourselves losing track of … what was I saying? And because these are bodily reactions, we can’t solve the problem with our intellect or willpower.
“Grief is bigger than us. It’s bigger than our efforts to manage it,” said Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love, in a TED presentation on the pandemic. Grief, like life itself, is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved. We must fully experience all the stages — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance — before it begins to loosen its grip on us. What makes today’s grief unique is that we’re going through it collectively, and everyone on the planet wants to talk about it, all the time.
Like so many people, I spend hours every day connecting with friends on social media, looking at memes, and reading emails like this.
“Just be careful because people are going crazy from being in lockdown. Actually I’ve talked about this with the microwave and toaster while drinking coffee, and we all agreed that things are getting bad. I didn’t mention anything to the washing machine as she puts a different spin on everything ... and certainly not to the fridge as he is acting cold and distant. In the end the iron straightened me out as she said everything will be fine — no situation is too pressing. The vacuum was very unsympathetic ... told me to just suck it up, but the fan was more optimistic and hoped it would all soon blow over! The toilet looked a bit flushed when I asked its opinion and didn’t say anything, but the door knob told me to get a grip. The front door said I was unhinged and so the curtains told me to ... yes, you guessed it ... pull myself together.”
I can’t believe I’m typing these words, but I believe that anonymous author’s curtains have a point. Because in spite of everything, we are somehow managing to pull ourselves together. We’re dealing with our grief, our cabin fever, and the barrage of terrifying headlines. Our homes, street wear, and shopping habits have been revamped to meet antiviral hygiene standards we would have considered impossible even a month ago. We’ve mastered Zoom and various other technology to keep in touch with those we love. Every day we manage to get out of bed and draw on depths of strength, compassion, and resourcefulness we never knew we possessed.
“Resilience is our shared genetic and psychological inheritance,” Elizabeth Gilbert said. “We are each and every one of us — no matter how anxious you feel you are, no matter how riddled by fear you feel — every single one of us is the genetic survivor of hundreds of thousands of years of survivors. Each one of us came from a line of people who made the next correct intuitive move, survived incredibly difficult things, and were able to pass their genes on.” That’s a comfortingly solid collective heritage to have at our backs.
At the end of every day, the weary dogs of Seville gather with their humans on balconies and rooftops all over the city for the nightly applause in honor of the healthcare workers. The valiant efforts of these heroes, and of everyone who supports the effort by staying home, are beginning to turn the tide. The slight flattening of Spain’s curve is offering us all a glimmer of cautious optimism. Each night, the applause and shouting gets a trifle louder and more boisterous, and sometimes the dogs join in the chorus. No doubt they’re howling, “Hey, enough already. Let’s end this thing so I can get some rest!”
Stay strong, stay considerate, and stay home, my friends! How are you surviving the emotional roller coaster of quarantine? What are you doing to lift up your spirits?
I'm an American travel writer currently living in California.
My weekly updates contain tips for keeping our mental equilibrium and living more authentically during these turbulent times.