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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Matters of life and breath

BY Sonny Orr Feb 16, 2022

The handshake, the two-cheek kiss, the back slap, the hug – remember those things? Yes, they’ve been around for thousands of years and now are on the edge of extinction. Is this an evolutionary turn of events for humankind, the end of the casual or affectionate greeting between good friends and family? Will these signs of passion be replaced by hands together, separated by a glass window, or a heart etched out of the frost on the pane? Have we moved to another phase of society where we cannot mingle or get together except by chance in a lineup? 

So many questions of our uncertain future. I know one thing – the habit of washing your hands will be hard to give up and the clutching of a face mask will become a matter of life or breath.

Now think of how we used to manage our sneezes. Remember the handkerchief? The cloth artifact would be whipped out of your pocket and loudly snorted into with incredible gusto and air pressure, then neatly or hastily put back into your pocket. It was a fashion to keep a few hankies handy each day. 

They have been replaced by Kleenex and chemical wipes which are immediately tossed into an incinerator, the ashes isolated to be examined for traces of contamination by scientists in haz-mat suits. But most people don’t have incinerators handy, so they just toss them into the garbage. Now which method is handier or safer? I suppose these observations might spark an “anti-cruelty to living microorganisms” march across the country.

Now, the rag mop had its day ever since some deck-swabbing sailor came up with the idea of mixing water with rags wrapped around the end of his wooden leg – and invented the mop. What he forgot to invent were cleaning fluids and soaps, so the world carried on without disinfection for centuries before the microscope was invented and revealed a whole new microbial world living under our dirty fingernails.

Yuck, why did we ever have to know about things like that, instead of accepting the pain and aches of whatever was ailing us? As we learn more, it appears everyone is now highly educated in microbiology, often leading to arguments during Zoom meetings based on how much the team leader knows about this virus and its variants. In our world, that also include vari-uncles.

Speaking of our world, the reality finally set in that we can get sick just like the rest of the planet. Still, we shouldn’t forget that the colours of maps aren’t just in shades of orange, red and yellow, and the GPS is not yet programmed on to helps us avoid areas that might be hazardous to our health. Perhaps the virus should be featured in forecasts much like the weather news, mixed in with the ultraviolet rays and pollens. 

Let’s see, should we go to town? There’s a slight chance that we could pick up a mild variant and the deadlier one has moved to a larger population centre, so it’s wiser to hit the beach today as the UV quality is normal. Don’t forget to pack bug spray, nose guards, suntan lotion, disinfectant wipes, six-feet-wide perimeter walls that are transparent to let the sun in and, finally, individually wrapped hotdogs for those with tender palates or some sense of taste. Those without working taste buds, be careful not to chew down on the paper wrapping.

As for me, the fortress of sanitization measures – aka my home – is soon to be tested for cabin fever, as some symptoms are becoming more evident. As for the lack of face-to-face contact with other humans, there’s always the indiscreet texting that works just fine. If you get into any disagreement, then blocking comes in handy. So, since I haven’t had any real close contact with anyone, it’s safe to say that I am antisocial by law and not by choice. 

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Sonny Orr is Cree from Chisasibi, and has been a columnist for the Nation for over 20 years. He regularly pens Rez Notes from the cozy social club in Whapmagoostui where he resides.