After retreating to the Yorkshire burbs in the shadow of something that’s really quite terrifying, Saturday night meant a glass of wine with two old proper best friends. The bank soon burst into four bottles. With each heavy thud into the recycling bin, a deeper nod to the giant, silent, sickly elephant in the room, broaching the topic with slow intakes of breath, quiet anxiety and jokes so dark that I won’t hold a candle to them.
What were we, really, going to do?
“I’m going to post some letters around here and ask if anybody needs a hand with their shopping or anything,” one friend replied with almost no delay. I was taken aback. In retrospect, her response came as little surprise. This particular individual is terminally positive (yes, even in the face of a feudal plague). She is also very kind. But as a companion firmly within both my age and ideological range, her priorities were coloured in a far different shade to my own in just one single sentence. Beyond my mum and dad, my grandmothers and my friends, I had never considered helping anyone else throughout the pandemic, preferring to hole up like a teenager and follow orders from a government I routinely pillory (oh, and my parents, who now ask what time I’ll be home).
What’s more, this friend stood in sharp contrast to so many I know. Few had expressed any desire to exercise such a level of goodwill. But we’re still vocal in our distaste for the alternative. We’ve so often thought that many across the aisle are compassion deficient, selfish and uncaring. We admonish the untold damage made to our NHS. We demand big explanations for the cuts made to those with very little.
And yet, in the gravest episode of Earth: The Series, we are not living up to our values. Or at least I’m not. In this sprawling rural geriatric fortress in which I now live indefinitely, there are dozens of older people I could’ve reached out to. I didn’t need to encourage a mass buying of tinned foods, sprinting down supermarket aisles on quick-moving, gangly legs. I certainly didn’t need to hit the pub last weekend either.
For when I order my grandmothers to batten down the hatches, I should do the same. We’re not doing it. Just yesterday, new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly 40 percent of patients ill enough to be hospitalised were younger adults. And, in an uncharacteristically mature moment for the Trump administration, the rather brilliant and longtime diplomat Dr. Deborah Birx gave a rallying cry to our generation: “Right now, we need an army of millennials out there doing everything that they can to protect themselves from getting infected… and making sure that they are [taking] every single precaution to protect their parents and grandparents.”
A sign on a bar in Berlin
Of course, such leadership didn’t actually come from the Leader Of The Not-So-Free World. But Dr. Birx, a remarkable figurehead in the fight against the HIV epidemic, has a long history of Doing The Right Thing, speaking with clarity and conviction and calmness needed in these times. She also gave caution too, pointing to reports of many young people in France and Italy becoming seriously ill in intensive care units.
Not so invincible then. And yes, you’re right to be rattled by such findings. Yet this is the moment to step up, protect others, and, more importantly, exercise some responsibility – something we’re apparently lacking, according to anyone who lobs avocados on toast as an insult. Of course, this aspersion is grossly untrue. Because we’re not snowflakes. We’re not selfish and we’re not uncaring.
In truth, we’re just a little afraid as the world changes for the worse. So help it out. Listen to the advice of experts. Listen to your body, too. Listen to the withering stereotype applied to you by that family friend because you liked to party at university, or the grandmother who was disappointed just once (and that was enough), or the conservative troll hellbent on goading millennials by Twitter. Play that over and over and over again in your head. Then, prove it wrong.
hero illustration by @tyler_spangler