A few days ago, Ben the collie suffered a violent interruption of normal gastrointestinal duties. Because he is a collie, he seemed none the worse for a few days – running, demanding his ball – except that he wouldn’t eat. He was ok, until suddenly he wasn’t: limp, unresponsive, collapsed. We bundled him into the car, the vet put him on a drip, and he came home to be hand-fed pieces of chicken thigh dressed with liver paste, and to doze, silky head between paws, while we kept watch.
Thus it comes to pass that a few days before Valentine’s Day, I am holding his head, telling him how good he is, while Pam attempts a rectal thermometer reading at the other end. This is a two-woman job, we think. There will be growls. There will be wide-eyed collie disbelief. There will be that tossing head.
Except in the end there isn’t. There is just a still, weak dog, who succumbs to the thermometer without a fuss.
And as we put him in the car a second time, for another day of drips and tests and shaved paws, and Becky the vet cancelling her half-day, there is love of Ben. There is quiet, painful relief that when crisis strikes, we creatures – furred and not – look after each other. When we can’t climb out of the car, someone will show up to lift us. When we can’t eat, someone will do what it takes to feed us. When we need our temperature taken, someone will – well. You know.
This pandemic is exhausting, scary, boring, infuriating, isolating – and sombrely full of love. It’s pulsing and present, in all shapes and forms. For every person who managed to meet the love of their life during COVID, form a two-single-person-household bubble, throw a beautiful whirlwind wedding which everyone attended on Zoom, and have a blissful multi-month lockdown honeymoon, there are countless more quietly looking out for each other. Let us count them.
There is the flatmate who buys you Haribo and cupcakes for your birthday, and bugs you to play Settlers of Catan rather than leave you stewing in your room over a breakup. There’s the one who doesn’t know you, but hugs you when your dad dies, suddenly, in another country, and you can’t fly home. The one who cooks you soup, reminds you to meditate, celebrates over your new job, sends you pictures from the snow, and asks if you are hungry, because they have leftover pizza.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get the one who has a Valentine’s Day menu planned that is all pink. Don’t worry, it involves normal food. And beetroot.
There is the aunt who writes you postcards twice a month, buys you a yoga subscription, and always has the right emoji. The friend who sends you chocolate, because she’s shielding and can’t walk with you. The sister who tells you to say ‘no’. The parent who checks whether you are warm enough (you are not, but thanks anyway), posts you leftovers by express delivery, or figures out Bloom & Wild just in time to send you roses for Christmas.
There is the neighbour who takes your package to the post, and the one who puts up the polite but firm sign about no more parties, and who says, as you both sit out in the hallway on the cold stone, ‘don’t let the bastards get you down’. There’s the one you bubble with, who has become your Scottish aunty, and there’s the one who shovels the snow from your driveway without you thinking to ask.
There’s the colleague who says, ‘I’ll support you on this’, and emails, ‘great work’. Who reminds you to take your annual leave, and got you an on-point Secret Santa present, or unexpectedly sends you chocolate coins in the post. There’s the student who wants to meet you for a walk, because you’ve seen them online every week for six months, and they’re back in Edinburgh now. There are the dog videos. There’s the person on another team who you’ve never even seen online, but who writes to say thank you for something you did; and there are the students who hit reply to your most boring emails, to say they hope you’re doing well. There’s the classmate who takes you to Arthur’s Seat, when you are new, just flew in, and don’t know anyone, and who texts you on a Sunday to see if you need milk, because they’re going to the Co-op.
There is the taxi driver, thrilled because you are his first customer all day, who calls you ‘pal’; the postman whose wife is going to cut your hair as soon as it’s legal again; the student who picks up your glove when you drop it in the Meadows; the girl downstairs who takes your parcels, and is so sorry about Emma’s music, was it really that loud.
There’s the cat who rolls in the snow while you make the igloo, and comforts you when another ambulance goes past and it’s hard to hear. And there’s the dog who comes running when you drop a plate and yelp, and looks adorable in their coat in the cold, and likes chicken but not dog food, and puts their hollow tired face next to yours, when it is your turn to comfort them.
And maybe there’s the person you’ve loved for a long time, or the one you just met; the dates in other snowfalls, and how this was the best; the histories known, and the futures yet to come.
Love in the time of coronavirus is sombre and bright, new and old, near and far. Sometimes it’s all gravy, and sometimes it’s, well, a certain kind of thermometer.
Nourish yourselves, this week. Ground, and rest, and give yourself a hug, and play in the snow. Drink more tea than usual, remember to eat vegetables, go to bed just a little early. Take a walk at lunch. Do something with your hands. Watch more Grey’s Anatomy than is strictly necessary. Tell your friends your snowman is better than theirs, because it is, and it will make them laugh.
We’ve got the love, and we’ll see this through.