Risky business: the shadow of constant threat is changing us

Sarah Perry in The Guardian:

Early on it was commonly said that we were all in the same boat, and in fact I recall, in the early days, a unifying sensation that was not unpleasant: the slam and bolt of a nation battening down the hatches. Eighty years and a day before we entered national quarantine, Virginia Woolf had recalled a “sudden profuse shower just before the war which made me think of all men and women weeping”. There is consolation in a common grief. But it is not the same boat: it is the same storm, and different vessels weather it. It would require a wilful dereliction of the intellect to believe that the risk to a Black woman managing a hospital ward is equal to the risk to – let’s say – a columnist deploring the brief and slight curtailment of her liberty.

Still: there is no life without risk. To be born at all is to be subject without consent to mortal risk, and after that there are countless daily risks taken without a qualm. Say the phone rings; you answer. This is a reckless act: what might come of it? A car journey perhaps, and the roughly one in 200 lifetime odds of dying in a road traffic accident; or possibly you will fall before you reach the phone, and join the other 5,999 who will die that year of an accident at home. These are the calculable risks, but the numbers never amount to much: they’re countered and corrected and countered again like the workings of a mechanical clock. Odds of injury and fatality are set against all the intangibles of love, necessity, impatience. A woman who avoids dark lanes on her evening walk takes a greater mortal risk walking down the aisle, and would be better off carrying a lock knife than a bouquet; but show her the statistics, and I doubt she’d remove her veil. So the past few months have entailed the constant negotiation of new risks and known ones, and risks that can be quantified and risks that cannot. Might an elderly man prefer to risk an unfamiliar disease than the familiar sorrow of loneliness? I suspect he might. Often the avoidance of risk to the body has exacted an inhuman cost from the soul. Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab, a kind and gentle boy who’d contained the promise of a kind and gentle man, was buried by strangers required to handle his coffin as they might handle a biological hazard; his mother could not risk attending.

More here.