Bodies and stories in the time of coronavirus

The climate of expectation and suspense precisely of these days of coronavirus is a challenge to our relationships.One of the strangest things is the fact that when you meet a dear person, you never know what to do. How do we greet each other in the time of coronavirus?

Our habits of gesture don’t provide for bows. Smiles are included, but in general accompanied by hand gestures. When we greet each other after, we shakes hands to say «goodbye». But when you are a meter apart you can’t do that. It’s ridiculous. The Americans invented the «Roman handshake», the handshake Roman style that joins not the hands but the elbows.

But no. For many the only way out is to penetrate the embarrassment and to say something like «and they already told us we shouldn’t touch each other…». And so we smile at each other and continue talking. However, we feel that the distance weighs on us. And closeness worries us.

Relationships become a theme for reflection. Also because you have to fight against instinct. You know it: if you love and you want to protect, you must not be close, but far away.

We have to rebuild how we treat our space and other people in terms of proximity in this current situation. We don’t know where the virus is, we don’t even know if someone has it in their body. There is no longer room for paranoia that instead has an object. Anxiety remains. Or the attitude of “watchful bravado” of those who do not want to be conditioned to much, but know they must be careful for themselves, but above all for others. We are not talking about the irresponsible here, but they are also there, perhaps. But, given that we don’t know where the virus is, we must reinvent for ourselves the meaning of distance and proximity.

We talk a lot, instead, we tell a lot in these times of imposed or chosen quarantine, and then of bitter loneliness, not used to smart working. We talk on the telephone, in video conferencing, we chat. We need to confirm emotional bonds because they save us… And the emotional bonds are built thanks to stories.

Story bypasses masks to reveal the face of those who are next to me, his or her life. The face that is narrated is finally uncovered and discovered.

In this time of modified rites, broken practices, habits dispersed by evil, stories replace bodies that — transubstantiated from desired attachments into potential infections — cannot crowd each other but only greet each other from a distance. Except they don’t share the same roof, like families or communities, both possible sites of quarantine that mix up rhythms, relationships, nightmares and desires.

Director of La Civiltà Cattolica @CivCatt, Consultor at Pontifical @VaticanCultura, Board of Directors @Georgetown University. Jesuit.

Director of La Civiltà Cattolica @CivCatt, Consultor at Pontifical @VaticanCultura, Board of Directors @Georgetown University. Jesuit.