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Day 10: Keep Safe

Academics tend to sign their messages with the words "with best wishes." Depending on how formal or informal you want to be, you might just write "best wishes" or, simply, "best."

There are colleagues who have become closer friends. With them I use "cheers" or "hugs," depending on the mood.

I cannot pinpoint exactly when I started to shift but I imagine that it might have happened at the beginning of March, when the news started to arrive from Lombardy, but before the situation became dire. I had been in Milan in January when COVID-19 was something that still was happening far away, in Wuhan.

I have many colleagues who work in Italy and some of those colleagues are close enough to be my friends. These are people whose families I know, whose houses I have visited. I know the names of their partners and children, and I have pet their dogs or mourned the loss of their cats.

Initially, I wrote final phrases that sought to offer comfort or reassurance. I hope you are all OK. I'm thinking about you. Let me know if there's anything I can do. After a while, it felt that everything I wanted to say could be synthesized in two words: keep safe. This is very different in spirit to any of the other closings I regularly use in my correspondence. It still implies a wish, but the wish is contained within an imperative. It's a command.

I have been using this for a while (it feels like forever but couldn't have been before March 1st). First, with my academic friends (probably because those are the emails I write most frequently), then with colleagues who are not that close, and finally with students. Little by little, it trickled into every message I write. From my confinement, there is nothing else I can do to help others stay healthy. My wishes, my thoughts, will not make any difference. The only thing left to do is to command others: keep safe. The imperative, the order, involves more than the action of keeping well; it also suggests that the recipient should stay out of harm's way.

Within my own helplessness, I still find time to tell others what to do, while at the same time I relinquish even my imaginary powers of protection. Keep safe, I write, but what I really want to say is make sure you are looking after yourself because I couldn't bear the pain of losing you.

10:45 pm:

Canada cases 3404

Deaths 35

Recoveries 183

World cases 471,518

World deaths 21,293


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