All Together on a Life Raft in the Wine-Dark Sea

When I first lived in NYC, I was struck pretty quickly by the fact that one could feel so alone while surrounded by so many people. I’d never lived in such a densely populated place before, and probably, with precious few exceptions, haven’t ever since, yet the city produced a kind of melancholy and loneliness that even the sparsest rural areas or small towns could not. We were all “alone together,” on a few islands and peninsulas filled with 8 million plus people.

It’s possible that the Pandemic has produced, for more than a few people, an inverse situation: being physically and geographically separated from most folks, yet feeling closer and more intimately connected to people who aren’t, technically, there. We FaceTimed with friends and family in Florida and Colorado, we texted more than we used to, we got to know our coworkers by way of Zoom more than we had ever before imagined, or wanted to; Zoom meetings, unlike in-person ones, can occur back-to-back-to-back and go on almost forever.

The trying events of 2020 and 2021 have made us realize that we should value some things more than we did before — brief, serendipitous hallway chats with coworkers, the ambient noise of bars and coffeeshops — and recognize that there were ways to engage with physically distant people that we cared about that we just didn’t take advantage of prior to the Pandemic. Hopefully, we might take some lessons forward from all of it.

Yet there is a not-insignificant amount of evidence that we won’t learn much. We have a strong track record of not learning the lessons of past catastrophes. Even if the COVID crisis highlighted untold dozens of long-standing problems in American life, from inadequate family and sick leave policies to gendered demands on reproductive labor in the home to gross inequities in income and workplace safety, it remains to be seen whether real, substantive, structural changes will be sought and put into place. It’s possible they still will — but it will take a great deal of on-the-ground, nitty-gritty organizing to make a vague realization into reality.

The sour contradictions are readily, unavoidably apparent. Studies show that a significant number of Americans are worried about getting the COVID vaccine not because of Bill Gates’s gay Jewish space lasers, but because they A. worry that it’s going to cost money (for the most part, it doesn’t), and B. fear that they won’t be able to take a day off if they do have adverse side-effects (which are pretty common) from taking the vaccine. In other words… a lot of people have pretty reasonable concerns about vaccination based on everything they know about the brutal and unthinking U.S. capitalist system they’ve dealt with every minute up until now.

Our present and our history, though, furnish plenty of examples of people going against the dead weight of norms and the status quo to find each other in the midst of the storm. There’s the young woman who is determined to build a better life for her friend who is trapped in Russia’s opaque and intransigent adult-care system. There are the Congresswomen, such as Rashid Tlaib, who stood up to the President of the U.S. and AIPAC to point out the vast cruelties being done to the Palestinians in our own name. The Orthodox Jewish women in NYC who banded together to defy the establishment and provide EMT care to their peers. The ordinary shoppers who pass each other and give a nod of recognition and belonging in H-Marts all over the U.S., amid a horrifying surge in racist violence against Asian Americans. We might be alone, but we often find ourselves not as alone as we expect. As Arlo Parks says in her song, “Hope”:

Started sweating bullets when her dad asked,

‘How d’you really feel?’

She said, ‘I’ve been feeling like something inside me wants to scream’

Won’t call my friends, I’m persuaded they’ll leave me in the end

Can’t feel my legs, I’m feeling like a liar at best…

You’re not alone like you think you are

You’re not alone like you think you are

We all have scars, I know it’s hard

You’re not alone, you’re not alone

Arlo Parks, “Hope” (2021)

We’re alone together. Here are some of our writers and editors’ picks for great reads from the last few weeks.