Maybe it's wrong, but I like the gentle preambles that people are adding to their emails. "I hope that you are doing okay and staying safe in the uncertain times in which we are living." The gentler the message, the better I feel.
Some people write lengthy, open-hearted preambles, and I want to tell them everything I'm afraid of in the world, before I remember that this is a work email.
But I hope we hold on to the preambles. There's really no time in which the sentiment doesn't apply.
Even on an ordinary day, like in the Before Times, when we would wake up in the morning and unthinkingly leave the house and go to a place where other people also are, it would be good to have someone say, "I hope that you are doing well and staying safe in these uncertain times in which we are living", before they go on to say they have rewritten their whole novel overnight.
Who will we be when we meet again, with our bad hair and halting conversation, our ankles permanently indented from big comfy socks? We will be someone else but it's too early to say who.
It's impossible that we will not come out of this changed, and with our psyches wired differently after struggling, both consciously and unconsciously, to understand how the world has changed – a process that will go on and on.
As Rebecca Solnit writes in a recent Guardian essay, the impossible has happened and things that were supposed to be unstoppable – the economy, namely – have stopped. "What is weak breaks under new pressure, what is strong, holds, and what was hidden emerges. Change is not only possible, we are swept away by it."
Suddenly, unless we are a billionaire secreted in a luxury bunker, the systems that hold people together and the systems that really don't are all clear to see. We can see who holds money in greater regard than people's lives, and who values power more than community, and the starkness of it is shocking, even if we'd caught glimpses of it before.
It's this clarity that has to change us. At the surface, above those vast systems that stretch down into the earth, there are so many small things I hope we'll hold on to.
We could continue to give each other enough space on footpaths and drivers could keep giving cyclists enough space on the roads. We could keep "popping out for some fresh air" (who knew?). Men could keep washing their hands after going to the loo – look, let's admit that we buried our heads in the sand for too long on this one.
We could feel more at ease in our own company, more in tune with what we need to feel okay. These things are minor, perhaps. But the fact that some of them are happening now speaks to a new kind of wakefulness and care that might extend outwards. Maybe these changes could only have happened in a crisis and in the search for stability that follows.
This morning I joined a virtual studio with some other NZ writers. Before the pandemic, we were going to be at an awards ceremony in May at the Auckland Writers Festival. Instead, we are all making recordings of ourselves for a virtual presentation.
While most of the writers were confident with the technology, for quite a while our screens were filled with the face of the great Owen Marshall, peering at us from his lounge with a look of incomprehension on his face.
Children around the world have no doubt seen similar expressions on the faces of their parents and grandparents these past weeks. I felt for Owen, even though his camera had an enviably crisp focus.
I feel for anyone who's uncomfortable using a computer at a time when almost the entire world has moved online. The divide feels newly acute, and urgent, and I have this perhaps naive hope that it's something we'll get better at mending, because we cannot leave Owen Marshall behind.
And it would be great if billionaires could keep giving their money away, like Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey did recently, and ideally they would keep giving money away until billionaires no longer existed. And if our gratitude for essential workers will translate into better pay and working conditions. If there were ever a time for recklessly hoping and agitating for better, it's now.
Not to trivialise all this, but as we try to take in what we are seeing, it's a bit like seeing your own massive shiny face in a Zoom call and having to reconcile yourself to the fact that yes, that is what you look like when you're talking and there are things you can change, like you could definitely interrupt people less.
Clarity is a thorny gift. In the meantime, I hope that you are doing okay and staying safe in the uncertain times in which we are living.