I am making a collection. This collection, saved on my phone, is mainly made up of screenshots of items that float past, bits and pieces that relate to living through a global pandemic. It’s not an exhaustive collection, by any means, but I figure that, in a year, or five or more, I will want to remember.
History is being made. History is, of course, always being made at all times and in all places but it is rarely that the same history is unfolding the world over. The artefacts of that history are being generated by the minute. With the incredible amount of information that flies around we are bombarded with the true and the false in equal measure. What will survive through to the end?
News, official documentation, government releases, cabinet papers, medical records, photographs and the like will become vital sources for future historians. They will explain what happened. They will allow us to piece together the events, the procession of circumstances that currently seems to swirl in all directions around us. They will tell the basic story. They will provide, once the dross is removed, the naked bones of the matter.
Writing, art, music, theatre, dance, and other creative outpourings will tell further parts of the history. They will provide information about the feelings the pandemic generated in the population. The results will be the response of those who are willing and able to make a public statement. Some of these pieces will be permanent, some transient, but each will speak of an understanding of the human condition throughout this crisis. They will provide the flesh on the skeleton.
What I am most interested in, however, is the ephemera. The utterly disposable. The posts on social media, the funny quotes, the clever memes, the pleas for compliance, the taking of a stand by everyday people, the witticisms and the stories of generosity and humanity. These things are born of the resilience of the community. They are the support networks. They are apparently fleeting – we see them one day and they are gone the next – but they add to our lives, they give hope and light, they communicate essential information, they make us laugh, they paint a picture of our will to survive and our determination not to lose our collective senses of humour. These things are the soul of the being.
My collection is a tiny sample of these objects. It is a minute, digital, modern-day scrapbook. I have notifications of state border closures. I have jokes about introverts, a coronavirus quarantine sign, a photo of a video conferencing lunch, memes that distract from the seriousness of our situation and instructions for staying home. These make up the third layer of colour that is no less important than the other two.
And so the history of the pandemic will be told in
the events OF it,
the response TO it and
our humanity THROUGH it.
I think we will come out on top. I also think the stories we tell about ourselves and the way we negotiated the path will make the most interesting part of the history. We have the chance to preserve it if we do it now. Hang on to a little bit and, collectively, we will be able to paint a magnificent portrait when we come out the other end.