Fear not

In times of panic so too are there moments of clarity. In Hong Kong a run on face masks is underway. Queues form at the whisper of some for sale, and stretch in circles around entire blocks, until the store of rumored provisions is entirely hidden behind the line of people waiting to learn if it is true. Walking past, those who have not yet caught the fear are confused, wondering if a concert or some other promotion, a tax break, a refund or discount sale is occurring. Have they missed out?

They have missed out on fear, though fear is an easy companion to find. Fear, in this case, is born in a Chinese city and exported world-wide. Fear is a thing that will keep us apart, more than wars, poverty, or the fact that the act of travel destroys our environment. As governments have known for centuries, fear is a great human motivator. It also gets plenty of press, and so I try not to take notice, not to share. When asked if I am afraid, if living in Hong Kong is dangerous, is risky, is scary, makes me nervous, I reply it does not, it should not, it will not. A place like Hong Kong brings joy, brings adventure, brings friendship and a great sense of accomplishment, but it does not bring fear.

And so I do not queue for masks, nor toilet paper, trusting in the global supply chains I help build to recover faster without my additional pressure. Neither, though, do I mock those who do, because fear, once uncovered, is a difficult worry to shake. So to those sending their domestic helpers to stand in long queues for fear of missing out on some newly short commodity, I understand. Being trapped in an office and unable to respond makes us more eager to act and more vulnerable to the whimsy of social media shares. Unable to prove, from the confines of a desk, whether the world is really running out does create uncertainty, does give rise to fear.

“If you are short TP I have extra,” reads the text from my friend, unasked for.

All we can do is take care of each other.

Familiar faces

We live together, celebrating the years since our meeting. After so long, though, it becomes hard to remember what we saw in each other’s faces, that first time. The features have become people, the strong nose or odd eyes faded into friendship.  Looking at each other today, we do not evaluate. Well, occasionally, of course.

“You look pretty today,” she says. It is a shy moment, not something I am used to being told. Is anyone? Sometimes we’ve made a special effort, preparing for an interview, or a business meeting.

“Nice outfit,” one says, as they look in the mirror one last time.

“Thanks.”

Even this is not the same, it is recognition, and our response something likewise known. Praise for attention to clothing, or a new haircut. We have grown familiar to each other, and each specific quirk, vocal habit or emotion has ceased to be a moment of discovery. We offer comfort for fear, anger at a story of injustice, or laughter. We no longer prepare for one another, showing up instead unannounced at any hour, in any garb. Faces become familiar, and our knowledge of each other’s features background to our daily adventures.

This is a good thing indeed, and it holds us together in spite of illness or anger, good dress or poor, because it is the person we see, not their appearance, or face.

Yet sometimes, on anniversaries, say, it is good to get out pictures and try to remember each other’s faces as they were before we knew them. What we thought before we had watched the other awake without shower or coffee, eyes closed and uncertain of the world around. This shared exploring of our memories is another form of familiarity. Trying to remember what we were so inclined to know better, to photograph, to tease laughter from, is indeed treasuring how far we have come.

There is another goal: an awareness of this change. So that with practice we may be able to see those first faces again, without pictures or special occasions, scattered randomly amidst the familiar daily expressions. And with these observations we remember both why we have spent all these years together, and where the desire to do so began.