Love in the Time of Covid
It’s like traveling to a foreign country, where you know absolutely no one, are confused about the customs, and don’t speak the language.
If you are a couple, well, here you are, just the two of you (and kids and dogs and cats and Zoom and portents of doom), coming face-to-face with all the things you love about each other, and all the things that drive you mad. In this strange country you have to manage the day-to-day of life: the meals, the schoolwork, the laundry, the colds (and the terror every sniffle brings), the tears, the bills, the dirty bathrooms, the video games, the tantrums (some of them yours), the whining (some of it your partner’s), the never-being-alone while being more alone than you’ve ever been.
If you’re single, well, you’ve been grounded. You’re not allowed to leave your room. No more hopeful nights in bars. That person you longed to get to know has drifted off into the miasma of facemasks and Purell. Your romantic partner won’t come to see you because he or she worries about exposing elderly parents. You still have your phone, which gives you a reason to live, but a video chat is simply not the same as an arm around your shoulders as you share a bowl of popcorn and a mediocre film.
Maybe you’ve lost your job. Maybe you’ve lost people you love.
Maybe your favorite restaurant has not survived. The movie theaters are closed. Broadway is dark. Even the bowling alley is shuttered.
Maybe you discover your partner’s chewing makes you clench your fists in rage, or the way they leave their teabags in the sink, or walk around the apartment eating a sandwich, dropping crumbs like Hansel and Gretel, the kids and the dogs becoming the sparrows following behind, doing a really dreadful job of cleaning up. Maybe their voice, demanding answers and reassurance, is the sound of a screech owl, or the rabbit under its talons. And why haven’t you ever noticed before they smell ever so slightly of old cheese and goats?
Maybe you don’t think your relationship will survive this pandemic.
There may even have been violence, or more violence, born of stress and booze and too-close quarters and no one, in this strange country, to help you deal with it. Slapped faces, broken arms, scalds, and worse. The child’s shocked and heartbroken whimper.
We can’t deny this is a rough time of uncertainty and fear and loss.
So, what can be said of love in the time of Covid?
Love’s still there. We can say that, even if it seems it’s been banned.
In this landscape of fear and sorrow, perhaps we recognize the life-spiral turning. Perhaps we recognize the liminality of it all. We are in a thin place, as the Irish say, a place where the veil between worlds is so easily pierced. Birth, in fact, in the time of plague.
And what is birth but the manifestation of love? It is also messy, and painful, and dangerous.
If we are to continue, however, it is necessary. Breathe, the midwives tell us, breathe through the pain. Focus on the child coming into the world. You’re not alone. Breathe.
There is not one of us who does not have a place in the birthing room. The mother. The father. The midwife. The child. The Something Unnamable that is the heartbeat and spark and glimmer of mortality/immortality.
What, we ask, if this new strange country we find ourselves in is nothing but love? Gazing at the newborn, perfect, fragile, precisely what the world has been waiting for, we learn new customs.
Now, speaking of customs: Valentine’s Day is here, the day we celebrate romantic love with flowers and chocolates and intimate dinners, but who was Saint Valentine? Well, it’s unclear. There are three different saints of that name, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, all of them martyrs associated with February 14. One was a priest in Rome, another a bishop of the ancient Roman colony Interamna Lirenas, and the third was a martyr in the Roman province of Africa. But let’s go with the St. Valentine of myth, shall we, since myth often perfectly reveals the truth of a matter.
According to myth, the St. Valentine of whom we speak lived under the rule of the aptly named Claudius the Cruel, the force behind any number of hideous, bloody military campaigns. One of Claudius’s many problems was that he had trouble recruiting soldiers. Although the reason for his thinking is hidden in the mists of time, he concluded he couldn’t get men to sign up for war and slaughter because they loved their wives and families so much.
What did Claudius do? He banned all marriages. At this point our hero, Valentine, saw just how unjust this ban was and so defied Claudius and went right on secretly marrying young lovers.
When Claudius the Cruel discovered this, he lived up to his moniker by arresting Valentine, having him beaten to death with clubs and cutting off his head on February 14, round about 270 A.D. Although it is probably more myth and not fact, it is also said that St. Valentine left a goodbye note for the jailer’s daughter, and signed it, “From Your Valentine.”
As we see from this myth, there is certainly an association with romantic love, but isn’t there also something more? St. Valentine was standing in his truth, in his conviction that tyranny and injustice must be opposed, using whatever non-violent tools one has at hand. In his case this was, of course, his ability to marry people. He didn’t lead a violent insurrection; he didn’t try to topple Claudius the Cruel from power. He simply went on doing what he felt was the right thing to do and honoring the love he knew animates the world.
The myth that began this holiday was, it seems, braided from two things: a protest against tyranny and injustice, and a celebration of love.
Which leads me back to this time of our own Claudius the Cruel. In honor of this day, how might we move outside the walls of our own comfort and celebrate love? Who might we raise up from despair and loss? How might we aid those who have been left in a world that feels as though love has been stripped from it? A romantic dinner for two is just lovely, but I wonder what might be born in the world, if we set (proverbially, since we’re still socially distancing) a few more seats at the table, for Love’s sake.
All art © Maria Poroy. See all of the heart art and others from Maria’s series here.
Copyright © 2021 Lauren Davis
Lauren B. Davis is the author of six novels, most recently The Grimoire of Kensington Market, and two collections of short stories. Even So, her latest novel, will be published in the fall of 2021. Born in Montreal, she now lives in Princeton, NJ, with her husband, Ron, and Bailey the Rescue-poo.