Intimations by Zadie Smith
“Death has come to America. It was always here, albeit obscured and denied, but now everybody can see it.”
The human body is an incredible thing in that it readily adapts and responds to changing environmental stresses in a variety of biological and cultural ways. Humans are the most adaptable beings on earth, but according to primatologist Jane Goodall, humanity will be “finished” if it fails to adapt after COVID-19.
Nothing could have prepared me for the challenges of this past year, but I have adapted. And I have held onto the phrases I hear again and again “we will get through this together, and we will survive”.
I held onto hope.
In her new book, Intimations, Zadie Smith has organized some thoughts and feelings that events over the past year have provoked in her. In a short and well crafted book, filled with connection, compassion, kindness, and love, Smith captures the essence of the pandemic in a nutshell.
|Photo by Stephanie Keith for The New York Times|
While waiting to escape New York City for a flight to London while she can, Smith heads out to a nearby ATM. She turns onto Broadway to find the streets deserted. Imagine New York City, Manhattan, the city that never sleeps… asleep? Subway ridership dipped lower than it had since its opening weekend back in 1904.
Desolate, lonely, isolated.
That leaves us wondering. Where are the New Yorkers?
Looking back today, one year later, and more than 30,000 New Yorkers have died, restaurants and theatres are on the brink of bankruptcy, and hotels still remain mostly empty. While the city is beginning to open its eyes with the vaccines pouring in, one has to wonder whether life will truly return to how it was or if again, we will adapt to a new normal.
Zadie mentions a powerful essay by writer Ottessa Moshfegh (author of My Year of Rest and Relaxation) which appeared in the Guardian last April. Ottessa's essay closes with:
My dreams these days are about my husband falling out of love with me. I wake up desperate and shaky, imploring him to confirm that he has not abandoned me while I’ve been asleep. “I love you,” I say. “Do you still love me?” I understand that this is my mind resting on the only real thing it knows outside of itself: love. Without it, life is just “doing time”.