Exhausted and weary, all of us

Disease was seen as something that could be avoided or defeated with the right lifestyle and attitude. Then came the pandemic.

Another day in the office.
Another day in the office.imago images/Antonio Guillem

Berlin-When I think about what comes close to life in the pandemic, paradoxically it is the experience of pregnancy, birth and the initial post-partum days. I am reminded of the proximity of birth to death, the isolation and loneliness afterwards and the general loss of control. I learned then how much I had taken my freedom for granted and realised how difficult it was for me to put my own whims, plans, interests behind the round-the-clock needs of a baby. The responsibility seemed overwhelming.

Even my pregnancy with a bulging belly and the cascade of hormones felt like something old-fashioned, archaic and impractical that urgently required a technical solution. I remember a pregnant woman in a birth preparation class getting upset about the fact that you couldn't predict when labour would start. It was so impractical. She wanted to do this and that but how was she supposed to plan for it? Why wasn't there an app that predicted the beginning of labour? she asked.

And now they say the worst is yet to come, that the lockdown may last until spring. What an imposition! What a humiliation!

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I have often thought back to this in recent months. Aren't we constantly looking for technical solutions in the pandemic, for the perfect app, the ideal strategy? This is especially tempting for Germans, who advertise their most important products - cars - with the words Vorsprung durch Technik - even abroad. We developed a non-functioning corona app. There were lockdowns, hard and light. There was the idea of being able to control the pandemic with "hammer and dance", or alternating lockdowns and openings.

Poor crisis communication

Accepting the power of the pandemic over society is all the more difficult because it affects health, for which every individual seems to be responsible. Since Susan Sontag's famous essay on "Illness as Metaphor" at the very latest, illnesses have been perceived as disorders, as misfortunes that can be overcome or avoided altogether with the right lifestyle and attitude. In the past, we had God, today we have self-optimisation. But all of a sudden good posture, yoga and mindfulness are no longer enough - and this scratches at our self-image. The gods have fallen.

The pandemic shows us our helplessness and our limits, despite all the technical progress. Everyone is exhausted. Everyone is tired. And now they say the worst is yet to come, that the lockdown may last until spring. What an imposition! What a humiliation!

Fatigue, exhaustion and weakness, however, are states that were no longer foreseen. "That a virus could slow down, even override, the dynamics of a technologically advanced society was beyond our imagination," writes philosophy professor Konrad Paul Liessmann in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. His diagnosis of the "offended society" is accurate, especially when he describes the inability to talk about the social responsibility that makes individual freedom possible in the first place.

He is irritated by how sometimes the life expectancy of older people is weighed against the right to go on holiday or travel abroad. This is not a sign of a generation gap, he says, but rather a dispute over the question: "How much is human life worth?" Not much, it would appear, if one thinks of the cold-hearted words uttered by the President of the Bundestag, Wolfgang Schäuble, who said that one cannot ban every corona death by law.

I have learned not to plan anything, not to expect anything, to live from day to day.

The overload and fear affects everyone. Some react with panic and pain, others with defensiveness and aggression. It is tragic that the German government has outsourced its crisis communication almost exclusively to a few individual politicians. No other SPD politician is as visible as Karl Lauterbach. Where is the SPD candidate for chancellor, Olaf Scholz? Why is he so silent?

Wouldn't it have been the job of a chancellor to explain in her New Year's speech to the Germans that there are still difficult months ahead, that normality is a long way off even if more of the vaccine is delivered - and that they need to show courage, perseverance and solidarity?

If I transfer my insights from pregnancy, birth and the post-partum period to the pandemic, then above all I have learned not to plan anything, not to expect anything, to live from day to day. Back then I was alone. This time I see the majority of people struggling along, sticking to the rules and trying to keep it together.

Everything passes. Someday, this pandemic will, too.