Thank You, Coronavirus

by Gurpreet Sihat

If there’s one thing I can, wholeheartedly, thank the coronavirus for, it’s this: 

Towards the end of last year, one of my oldest friends moved to Toronto. We’ve known each other for 25 years. She’s been there for every up and every down, even when she’s not physically around. 

When my grandmother died, I stayed in London alone while the rest of my family went to Vancouver for the funeral. No matter how late or stressful her workday, no matter how tired she was, she came over every evening to keep me company. Before that, as I struggled to choose myself and my mental health over other people, she was the person giving me not-so-gentle reminders as to why I needed to cut those ties before I hanged myself with them. For my sister’s baby shower, she helped me painstakingly colour and cut individual leaves to hang about the room (it was a jungle theme). She’s been there to celebrate every victory and console me over every disappointment. She’s family. More so than a lot of my actual relatives. 

Canada was, for my suddenly lonely head, the beginning of the end. Time zones got in the way. Life became chaotic. I pretty sure we didn’t speak for a good four months, unless it was tagging each other in Marvel posts on Instagram (you’ll be surprised how often we can send each other the same gifs with different captions without getting bored). When we finally managed conversations, they were short and often interrupted. 

Until the coronavirus pandemic. 

Suddenly she’s working from home. No long commute. No evenings booked to the brim. 

Suddenly there are movie nights! 

We video call while she makes dinner and I make dessert (well, a popcorn replacer and coffee). Then we curl up – on sofas or beds or (on the occasion I’m working late) my office chair – and hit play. Text messages fly from Toronto to London and back again. Lines we can’t stop laughing at, decisions that she is TOTALLY Martin Lawrence, random pictures of Chris Evans because he’s got chest hair in this movie and it’s been ages since we’ve seen it. We devour movie after movie - Star Wars, Rebel Without A Cause, Bad Boys, Knives Out, the BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma – having to stop every once in a while to resync when we realise one of us is somehow going faster than the other, and when it’s over there’s the hour-long video call that follows. 

“But why?!”

“I did not see that coming.”

“Confession, I haven’t seen Dark Phoenix yet.” 

“How are we even friends?!”

“After watching him as Sherlock, I get it.” 

And while she’s definitely my favourite part of the week, she’s not the only person I’m suddenly feeling closer to again. 

I’m waking up to text messages from friends from when I was twelve, their lives having revolved around kids and work and nothing more until recent events. I’m receiving phone calls from people I once shared almost every waking hour with in one way or the other during university, catching up as they take their daily walk. I’m being bombarded by e-mails from old contacts and clients, not filled with work, but just wanting to check in and make sure I’m doing okay. I’m even doing theatre evenings with a family in America thanks to The Shows Must Go On.

Now, in the time of social-distancing and self-isolation, despite the days being busier and more stressful, I’m feeling closer to everyone I care about. Instead of getting angry at it for cancelling our events and keeping us indoors when the weather is glorious, we should focus on the things we can thank coronavirus for. 

I can, wholeheartedly, thank the coronavirus for all the smiling voices down the phone, the laughter filled text messages and e-mails, and the memories they bring with them. For the movie nights and the popcorn my dad makes for me, something he hasn’t done since I was a child. For reminding me that an ocean is not the end of a friendship. For giving me back one of my favourite people in the entire world. And while I hope these trouble-filled times come to a very quick end, I’m definitely going to make a conscious effort to make sure the gifts they’ve brought me carry on throughout the good times too. 

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