In praise of strangers in a pandemic 🎭

I can't shake the feeling that whatever play we thought we were in before isn't the play we're in now. The old set has been blown away...we have different lines...about obligation to each other. We're not so familiar with that script. 

There's no shortage of lines. There are the basic messages. Distance, wash your hands, wear a mask, avoid social gatherings. There are the lines written by the humorists. Maintain physical distance, or 1 Joey Ramone. There's the threatening voice of authority. If we don't turn this around now, there will be tighter controls ahead. Clever wordplay, too. Spread the word, not the virus. Bend the curve, not the rules. Wearing a mask? Best time to get braces. The big picture: we are in this together, apart. The appeal to the heart: protect your loved ones. 

Versions of the last line about protecting loved ones are curious. It's long been thought that protecting loved ones goes without saying. The human impulse to protect loved ones is thought to be so natural and so strong that it itself must be guarded against. We don't trust the testimony in court of loved ones. Laws are established to dent nepotism. Famous people who cheat to get their kids into famous colleges go to jail. Minor hockey parent have to be taught to cheer for kids other than their flesh and blood. Tony Soprano made protecting loved ones his life. Donald Trump made protecting his favourite loved one, himself, the hallmark of his presidency. The task has never been to remind each other to protect loved ones. 

Until now. 

Because if you believe the public authorities who decode the public data, it's the private gatherings of loved ones that are behind the spread of the 'rona in these parts. So, directing people to treat strangers like loved ones might be a miscue. 

Besides, strangers don't need to be filtered through loved one. Strangers need their own, well, love. Now is the time.

You know those signs you see in some neighbourhoods where children still play on front lawns and sidewalks and streets? Drive like your kids live here, they say. Yes! I say as I pedal by. No! I say as I think about it a bit more. I mean, are we so bereft of fellow feeling that the only way we can establish a duty to strangers is by riffing on the loved-one theme? In a city? In a city where, by definition, the majority of people we encounter, however fleetingly, are strangers?

We need a clearer and more potent appreciation for strangers and for the duties we owe them. Not because they could be friends one day. Not because we imagine them as loved ones. But precisely because they are strangers. 

Imagine a city without strangers. No such thing. 

On the list of good things lost when in quarantine? Strangers. 

I enjoy watching strangers and seeing the various ways they move and dress and wear their hair or polish their heads. What they sound like, what they cook, what music moves them. Their different opinions. Who they love. How they adore their dogs. What food they buy. What they read. Where they live. How they survive. I enjoy being in the presence of people I don't know and don't love who display different ways of being alive in the world. 

The great gift of strangers is the road out of myself. 

So, yes, I am fond of strangers. Why would I want to get them sick? We're all the same when we're sick. At the end, it's curtains for all of us. 

Besides, it's the right thing to do to wear a mask at the theatre. 


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