My Outlook calendar is in an alternate reality to me. Island Holiday! Sophie’s birthday party. Hike! Book group. Mike’s birthday party. Kat? Lido. Pack up flat. Cheddar Gorge Trip. Leaving drinks.
In physics, the many-worlds interpretation holds that for each decision you make, a parallel reality hives off. Branches away. I’ve always been an If? person. Usually in the regretful sense. If I’d had the initiative to get a weekend job when I was sixteen. If I’d done Zoology instead of Politics for undergrad. If I hadn’t left that bar early, even though that cute guy asked me to stay. There are the Ifs I couldn’t have controlled, but still can’t help dwelling on, like: If the trigger for my arthritis hadn’t activated. Then there are the terrifying Ifs, that keep me awake at night if I dare to let them in. This one most of all: If, on that summer’s day in 2003, my dad had bothered to put his lifejacket on when he went water-skiing, which he usually always does – then he wouldn’t have been able to dive down. Then the boat propeller would have ripped through more of him than just his arm.
So maybe there’s a universe where I’ve lost my dad.
And maybe there’s one where the individual animal that harboured Covid-19 was never eaten. Or the virus never spread beyond the wild meat market in Wuhan. Or never beyond Heibei. Decisions taken, or taken too late, or not taken at all. The virus has made decisions too – all the right ones. The brainless genius of DNA.
Usually, I’m content with the universe I’m in. Now, it’s hard to fight the feeling that when realities diverged and the virus became unstoppable, we all ended up in the wrong one.
In that other universe, where Covid-19 never crossed the species gap, or different human decisions were made, right now I have just walked through the door of my London flat. Back from a week spent on a remote Scottish island near the Mull of Kintyre. Full up on salt air, birdwatching, beach-walking. I’m putting clothes in the washing machine. I’m looking forward to the book signing I’m going to at Waterstones Hampstead tomorrow. I’m getting so, so excited about my departure for Canada in May.
But it’s childish of me to mope over myself like this. Unless I get the virus and am enormously unlucky – I may be immuno-suppressed and asthmatic, but I consider myself fit and healthy otherwise – I. Will. Be. Okay.
The world will be okay again for many of us. Of course, for those who have lost loved ones, or suffer lasting financial ruin, or some other ruin of dreams, it won’t be. Won’t ever be, or not in the same way.
Yet, contrary to my pessimistic nature, I truly believe that this virus is a blessing. It’s deadlier than flu, but something far deadlier will come in the future. This is inevitable. Only, we’ll be more prepared.
A final note: after writing all of the above, I went outside to clap for NHS staff. My mum and dad included.
May they be safe.