Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

13 Nov 2020, 10:05 a.m.

Inclines and Declinations

A while ago, a friend of mine who lives in Manhattan contacted me to say that she and her spouse would have some time off this week, and suggested that they come to visit us in Queens. We would of course be outdoors and masked and physically distant. We made plans.

And then we canceled them and did a Jitsi videocall instead. Because my friend had just spent half a day in a hospital for various tests, because they'd have to take a cab or subway trip to get here and back, because the COVID case numbers are going up. Everyone understood -- there's no shame or blame attaching to anyone here, just trying to mitigate risks.

We had a great chat about Star Trek: The Next Generation (which they just started watching several months ago), about adaptations and abridgements and what they elide, about writing and publishing and writer's block, about where we were on Saturday when jubilation erupted in response to the announcement of Biden's victory.

I will not be going anywhere for Diwali, Thanksgiving, or Christmas. I will be taking care of my friends and family by keeping them safe -- by doing my bit to keep them safe.

Maybe you have friends or family in pandemic-affected areas who don't really listen to legitimate statistics and are inclined to (disastrously) follow their own intuitions and personal anecdotes when deciding that they're fine with unmasked, indoor get-togethers. People who don't listen to your reasoned arguments.

I once learned -- of course via disabled folks swapping tips on social media -- that doctors often look askance at a patient saying "I did some research and these peer-reviewed papers suggest [x] diagnosis/treatment might be applicable" but are very open to a patient saying "a friend of mine had these problems and [x] helped -- could we check that?" There's something there, I suppose, about how the dominant person in the room is willing to humor you, as a parent does a child, as long as you aren't stepping onto their turf, challenging their expertise. You're acting like a normal, social person, more familiar with your friends' worries than with how your own body works, grasping for the concrete rather than abstractly reasoning.

So I wonder whether a similar approach might work this year, with some of the folks to whom "but it's Christmas" and "don't you want to see your family?" are imperviable rejoinders. Say that your friend is really worried about what'll happen if you go (I can serve as your friend for this purpose). Tell them about your friend-of-a-friend who caught COVID six months ago and still hasn't recovered (I have at least one friend in this category).

And, readers in countries where the pandemic is under control and you can live a reasonably standard life: I'm glad y'all have been sensible. Someday we'll join you. I hope.