My 39-year-old step-daughter dropped off some toilet paper at our condo this morning. While we don’t need toilet paper, I was touched by her gesture. In return, I gave her one of our three tubes of Clorox Disinfecting Wipes.

Before last week, that interaction would have been unnecessary, unthinkable, preposterous. Today, it’s a tale of love in the time of coronavirus.

Like billions of families for thousands of years, we exchange things our kids don’t really need because we can and we care and we’re family. These gifts don’t just have great sentimental value. Toilet paper and disinfecting wipes are now, in our pre-plague economy, rare and precious.

We then talked for 15 minutes with her standing awkwardly in the entranceway to our condo and me sitting at the dining room table. I didn’t offer her coffee. She didn’t move closer.  We talked about the usual stuff this week: losing your job and your business. We talked about her mom who’s my wife, recounting the days she was a SARS doctor, and fretting that today is different; she’s 77. When it came time to bid my step-daughter goodbye, I stood up and moved close to her. She backed up. I stopped in my tracks. Our instincts had already taught us the rules of social distancing. We waved goodbye, awkwardly, 20 feet apart, with a promise to call tonight.

So is this it, then?

Is this how we’re going to act with our loved ones face-to-face?

All I can say is, thank God for the Internet.

Seriously. Think how hard social distancing would be if we all didn’t have an alternate reality.

If this pandemic had hit in 2000 instead of 2020, we’d all be pouring out into the streets screaming: “Shoot me!”

WiFi has officially been with us for 20 years, but memory tells me maybe 10. And WiFi everywhere, say 5. Technology’s had a bad time of it recently. But if it can get us through this plague, all will be forgiven. In fact, a Toronto company called BlueDot used AI to track COVED 19 even before the Chinese did. I digress.

So imagine being banished to your home for the next …..well, who knows how long?…and not being able to text or e-mail your friends? Binge on movies all day?

Do online banking? See your savings disappear in real-time?

Imagine not holding 20-person video meetings with colleagues from around the world? Designing real buildings virtually? Practicing law?

Practice medicine? Starting a blog?

That’s what we’re doing. My wife’s all tuned up on telemedicine and ‘saw’ her first patients today. I’m starting this blog, Plague-Ground, because I love to write and connect. We don’t need to be in Toronto, let alone in person, to do any of this.

But social distancing in our homes without WiFi is a whole other thing…. having to just sit and… a book…watch TV….listen to the radio on a radio… on your computer but be unable to share that work……

So, despite the shocking change in all our lives, all kinds of virtual communities have sprung up in the past 72 hours to take the place of in-person groups and gatherings – from the Social Distancing Festival, featuring the work of performers who’ve had their live concerts cancelled, to putting up Christmas Tree lights to re-ignite some cheer.

We’ve known for years that strong communities make for long lives. If you’re a baby girl born this morning in Tokyo, the chances of you living to be 100 are 1 in 2. There are two reasons for this: diet and the incredibly strong sense of community the Japanese uniquely possess.

Until last week, one big difference between a real community and a virtual one was, the real one nearly always lived longer.

Today, we’re learning first-hand that each one can be infected by a virus.

But it’s infinitely better to have both, especially now when one is on its knees.

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  1. joseph rosenthal

    thanks Bob for your insights and wisdom. how can one so young be so wise?? you never cease to amaze and amuse us lesser mortals,
    what are you smoking? all the very best to you and Jean, please keep well both of you J and D

    1. Thanks for checking in again, Joe, and my apologies for the late reply. Writing these blogs gives me something to do every day — and something to read!
      I’m glad you enjoy them. Cheers. Bob

    1. Thanks, Heidi. I trust you are all high and dry in Salt Lake City? We are at our cottage two hours north of Toronto….Cheers and love, Bob (and Jean)

  2. Raymond greenwood

    Thanks Bob from Jericho beach Vancouver enjoy very much reading your blog and please thank your wife for the great service she is performing
    From the west coast

    1. Raymond — My apologies for such a late reply. I will pass on your good wishes to my wife, and thank you for reaching out. Cheers. Bob

  3. In my dance community many full-time instructors, who have seen their businesses vanish overnight, are up and running with online classes and tutorials as a new income stream. This situation may force us all to invent new ways of doing things. See, always a silver lining somewhere. And thanks for the shout-out to BlueDot!

  4. Today I walked in to my food co-op with an N95 mask a neighbour in the laneway gave me. I am not sick however the co-op (Karma) is small and there were 7 shoppers there… today I also told my daughter and her family we couldn’t visit and no sleep-overs: I had a catch in my throat (NOT Corona) relating this to her. For now I will face time reading a ‘chapter’ book with Calder. And remember all those paper napkins: ikea, marimekko – that were relegated to the back of the cupboard – I have brought them to the front. Get dressed in the morning, set the table nicely and eat sitting down. Keep what is civil as long as we ARE civil.

    1. I like that notion a lot. I mean that idea of doing and being civil.
      That word can sound so austere and forced, but what I am thinking is the importance of social Grace’s and caring for people beyond the immediate inconvenience to ourselves.

      Keep caring and reaching out to those who need some cheer.

  5. Dan O’Connor

    There will be a recalibration of what is culture, what is community, and what is essential. The overwhelming majority of people have no connection or historical perspective of what took place in communities across the world during the depression and subsequent world war. We’ve all been conditioned to anticipate a certain lifestyle as acceptable.

    We’ve only just begun, or so the song goes. Strength will not be the consideration of perseverance; endurance will. Being able to adapt, smile, and reflect in the discomfort will be where we will collectively thrive or individually dive…

  6. Madeline Thompson

    Love it Bob – keep them coming. Don’t despair, this too will pass and
    we are learning some very valuable lessons from the whole experience.
    We may even become a more generous and accepting global community

  7. Thank you Bob! Well said. Hoping you and Jean will still strong and healthy. Jean Marines seems so long ago…..

    1. Hi Sharon, Bob here….indeed, JeansMarines DOES seem so long ago. But we all learned endurance from it, right?

  8. Donna Hoppenheim

    thanks, bob and jean, for your talents and skills, and for finding opportunities to employ them for our collective benefit! i enjoy reading your newsletters, bob, and smile every time i don my JM socks or t-shirt (terrific memories!). as you know, the greater my (negative) stress, the harder i need to laugh. i’m also a hugger – i’m keeping a mental log of all the opportunities i need to recapture when this $&@?! virus is done. in the meantime, please accept this message as a virtual hug from me to you & Jean and family! to all others: wishing you continued strength and good mental health. reach out. donna (hoppy). btw – terrific pic!

    1. Bob here, Donna — I think you and I are the only people who HAVE Jean’s Marines socks!
      And yes, I think of those glory days whenever I put them on.
      Cheers. Bob

  9. 9/11 changed the world poorly in many respects eg.Gitmo,Islamaphobia,etc. Maybe COVID 19 will,once it is over,change us for the better eg.make us more caring for and patient with each other.

  10. Loving your stories, thank you Bob.
    I hadn’t thought about what it would be like to be going thru COVID 19 without the internet – I’m with you, shoot me!

  11. Loved reading this. So much of it echoes my life. Thanks Bob and give my hello to Dr. Jean. (We reconnected at the Toronto Public Library Gala in 2018 — I was the author at your table.)

    1. Bob here, Sajidah — I remember you ! As does Jean, of course. That amazing coincidence of you two knowing each other.
      I will pass on your reghardas to her. All the best, Bob

  12. We leave for Toronto tomorrow from Puerto Vallarta where people are cleaning like crazy and refraining from hugging a normal behaviour here. Thankfully have ordered groceries for delivery on line as we begin our 2 week self isolation, but with e-books, puzzles, games and stitchery will provide a lot to keep ourselves amused. Containment will work. Health to all

  13. Precautionary, not nihilistic.
    Keep some cash on hand. Lay off social media and Netflix for a little bit each day. Streaming platforms are groaning from use. Write, read and walk.

  14. Love your blog, Bob!

    You are so right. Without the internet, those of us whose children live at a distance (we encouraged them to be independent did we not?) would be apoplectic right now (or is it just me?)

    Keep well.

  15. Always appreciate your thoughtful perspective on life, Bob. I look forward to reading your next piece.
    Virtual hugs to you and Jean.

  16. Bob, as always, thanks. Here in Barrie, a friend of ours organized a take-out from one our best restaurants – The North. Marshall needed 100 of us to make it work. He got 120 of us to order meals. We’ve prepaid and tonight at 6:30 drive up to the front door to pick-up our meals.

  17. Thanks Bob, what a great way to lighten the weight that everyone is feeling right now. Look forward to your next missive!

  18. Lovely reading as we enter a 72 hour lock down in Medellin. Not even the bars and dance clubs are allowed to stay open! Keep writing, please.

    1. There are worse places to be for 72 hours than Medellin.
      We are iuding out up north at our cottage with Jean learning how to do telemedicine and me…..writing blogs. Life was so different last week!
      Best to you both./

  19. Betty-Lou Durr

    I hope this “social tightening” view goes viral !
    This is telemedicine /social media medicine in a creative way! What a Gifted combo you and Jean are! You are precious! Love Always near , Betty-Lou

  20. Kallia Mansour

    Thanks for sharing Bob, love this! Lucky to be connected with loved ones despite social distancing. Virtual communities have been very interesting, yesterday we had the chance to dance zumba with my daughter’s daycare teacher.

  21. As ever Bob -you bring so much joy, pleasure, and downright fun into so many peoples lives. A force of nature indeed. Thank you.

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