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“Your ideas of a new normal won’t change a thing for those at the back of the line of life.”

In her latest Back of the Line column, Senator Lynn Ruane questions to what extent we’ve all been in this together.

*TW, this piece contains mentions of suicide.

“Many continued hoping that the epidemic would soon die out and they and their families would be spared. Thus they felt under no obligation to make any change in their habits, as yet. Plague was an unwelcome visitant, bound to take its leave one day as unexpectedly as it had come.” Albert Camus, The Plague


Covid, ugh, I hate even writing it. It’s literally everywhere, making people unwell, mentally and physically, and it reaches back into our pasts and sets us up for our futures—trauma transferring at a rate more rapid than the R number on NPHETS’ spreadsheet. 

Ending Covid, protecting people from Covid, learning to live with Covid, promoting science and vaccinating the world, all at the top of the things I support. But let’s not for a moment forget the risk of balancing the threat of Covid versus the trauma that we as a nation, as a humanity and as a globe have experienced to varying relative degrees. It is stark and will be felt long after we are gone. These two things exist together, two points of tension. “Open the country people need to live”, say them, versus “close the country people need to live,” says those. Neither cancel each other out. 

It is the young people, the drunk people, the international travelling people, the working-class people, the people, the people, all the fucking people. 

We are not a set of autonomous groups separated from each other with chalk lines drawn around us that allow the world to see people as distinct groups that are more worthy or deserving than anyone else to live. 

Remember what they said; we are all in this together. 

Yet by May 31st, there were 2,910 fines given out in Ballymun and 75 in Dun Laoghaire. Dun Laoghaire was the spot for most lockdowns, people in their droves on top of each other and swimming in the sea. We are all in this together, they said? I am sure the people in Ballymun know how untrue that is. 

Death is sad, and living unhappily is also miserable, so what exactly are we talking about when we say that we don’t want to go back to the way we were? Why don’t we want to go back, and what have we learned? Or when we dream of holding onto some of the new forms of life that Covid has brought, such as working from home. 

Who is the WE in that? 

The young man in Tallaght had no digital literacy skills and couldn’t switch to online therapy, so he chose death. It is not the people who took their lives as the HSE withdrew their detox support, when the Keltoi rehabilitation unit was taken over for Covid related isolation. 

The world has an existential crisis, and it’s a pandemic, but in that world are people who experience that situation daily; by many other names, poverty kills many of us in our 1000s in Ireland alone. Nobody can be in anything together, when they were so far apart in the first place. 

Trauma is generations deep and stuck inside us, creating this odd scenario where we outlive ourselves—our sense of self and connectedness to the world dying before our bodies get the memo. I have lost more friends to suicide, to addiction, to poverty-related comorbidities, so excuse me if I don’t join your chorus of pointing fingers at who is the best Covid complier. 

Before Covid, my community and those like mine were dying; after Covid, they will continue to die. Your ideas of a new normal of flexible working hours, online living, slower paces of life, and new hopes that we can have pedestrianised streets and outdoor dining won’t change a thing for those at the back of the line of life. Those whose crack habits increased or returned with the isolation and service restriction, or those women whose mental health declined or triggered as they were bound to their homes with their children, or those young men who struggled in school due to trauma and undiagnosed mental health issues can’t reintegrate back into a system they were barely hanging on to. 

I could go on and on here, but I already know this is the most pessimistic thing I have written in ages. So, while you enjoy lunch (as I do too), Al Fresco, remember your new normal isn’t transferable to those already dying before the virus arrived. 

Abiding by restrictions to get back to normal, I agree. Vaccinating so we can protect each other from a virus, I agree. Demanding the Government sign the trip’s waiver to safeguard humanity as a whole, I agree. That’s the real discrimation here, yet there is uproar about the ‘discrimation’of indoor dining. Travellers have had to give bogey surnames to try to make a dinner reservation for decades now yet they have never had the country line the streets in protest of such blatant discrimation. You can be just as privileged in your Covid response as you can be to most things. Yet, it’s the disadvantages that are showing themselves in the dialogue around these issues. In India, just 1% of the population are vaccinated and right now, Ireland and the EU stand in the way of them and others having access to the Intellectual property necessary to protect themselves. 

On a global scale we are not in this together, and on a domestic class level we do not experience it in the same way. You are not Rosa Parks, nor can you compare your situation to apartheid because you can’t order a burger and chips indoors during a public health crises. Every reference to discrimation creates a new split down the centre with those who agree that the decisions are nonsensical. While the boats of the rich and the decision makers will return to still water, the fragments and fractions of tension, misinformation and impoverished thought will continue to turn on themselves and each other. 

A boy knocked on my door last week and said his frisbee went over the back wall. It has been a long time since a frisbee went into our garden. In the weeks before that, three kids were racing each other up and down the field. I write this piece as three families locally grieve, in some cases not for the first time, for the loss of their sons. In this situation kids throwing Frisbees for the first time in years is about as normal as we can hope for. 

Old normal, new normal, hold firm, and whatever other slogan comes with it, it doesn’t apply to all of us. Your boats were always more secure; many communities have been leaking for years. 

How people receive and process information differs across society so right now as many boats search for a safe course, with barely a scratch, others are holding on to planks of wood and falling foul of paranoia as they float. 

With every decision that makes little sense, that decision makers will rebound from, large parts of society set out their stalls as to what camp they are in, creating further rifts in communities. We will all remember this time differently. 

A pandemic really was the perfect time to read Albert Camus, especially The Plague and like Camus, I too have realized that we all have plague, and I may have lost my peace. In the absence of covid the battle lines will still be there, those who did and those who didn’t, those who judged and those who slipped over the cliff edge of extreme theories. 

Was this who we always were anyway. Is our old normal, new normal, all the same thing? People are fearful of each other for one reason or another, battling to maintain their own way of life. We all tell ourselves stories to survive, especially in times of crises, right now, each, in our own way, we’re attaching ourselves to a story that works for us, some more privileged than others in what that story is. On a relative scale we have all endured or learned something throughout this process. My only hope is that we don’t further divide on the things that separate us. 

I am not a big pusher of hope, as it is often just another story we tell ourselves so we can continue to live in the shite, but beyond my fear and despair I have to hang on to something right now, so, 

“Once the faintest stirring of hope became possible, the dominion of the plague was ended.” Camus