Counting

Life in the Time of Coronavirus

Number of days since I’ve been to the office: 23

Number of days since I’ve eaten a meal in a restaurant: 20

Number of days since I’ve stepped out of my house: 7

It can be hard to avoid the temptation to count things. Just ask the little guy with the cape and the Transylvanian accent from Sesame Street.

After all, counting is part of how our brain makes sense of the world around us. Counting is an abstract process that is one of the things differentiating our behavior from that of other species. It’s part of the human condition.

When it comes to the social distancing and sheltering in place we now engage in as a hope against hope of keeping coronavirus at bay, we count the days while looking over our shoulders. Children count the number of days until Christmas, and as adults, we may count the number of days we have left to complete a particular task. Coronavirus, however, has robbed us of (among many other things) the ability to look forward to anything. Instead, we can only look back.

Sure, we can look forward to the day when we have flattened the curve sufficiently to declare the pandemic at an end. But that’s a nebulous concept. It could be a month down the road, or six months, or maybe a year or two. There is no countdown.

So how can our big brains index our progress toward the light at the end of the tunnel without a measuring stick? It seems that our best defense against being lost without a compass is to turn around and count the one thing that is quantifiable: The amount of time that has passed since we last experienced anything approaching normalcy. This can help us mourn what we have lost.

And then we must execute an about face and once against march forward into our new normal, whatever that may turn out to be.

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