Sharp Edges

Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author and freelance journalist. He can be reached at rewrite@shaw.ca.

Kelowna has gained national recognition as a COVID-19 hot spot.

Until early July, B.C. had been a model for North America. This province was the first to be hit by the pandemic; it was the first to “flatten the curve” and bring infections under control. B.C.’s interior had no new cases in weeks.

And then around Canada Day, a bunch of younger people gathered at private parties in two Kelowna resort hotels. Some of those people later visited two other sites where infected individuals were present.

As a result, around 300 new cases have been identified. And around 1,000 people are now in self-isolation because of the possibility of having been infected.

And those figures, admits Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, are “absolutely going to go higher.”

I think those young people were foolish. But I’m not surprised. Because the means of controlling the coronavirus’s spread were utterly unnatural.

We were told to stay home. To avoid physical contact. To maintain a safe distance. To wash hands, wipe doorknobs, and cough into our elbows. It worked.

But I’ll risk saying that our desire to gather together is the primary characteristic that makes us human.. Not the ability to invent tools. Not the ability to walk on our hind legs. Not the size of our brains.

It’s our obsession, our compulsion, to form groups, to belong to something larger than ourselves, that defines us as humans.

Marriage. Family. Clan and tribe. Friendships. All involve more than one person. And all are innate and intrinsic.

As far back as we can trace our roots, our proto-human ancestors clustered. For mutual protection. For cooperative effort.

The need to belong may derive from life itself. All forms of life – plants, animals, even bacteria — form colonies.

Certainly, togetherness reaches back to our mammalian roots. We mammals have to nurture our offspring, or they die. And although we may have no conscious memories of being held, cuddled, and nursed, I suspect that we have, imprinted somewhere in our cells, an awareness of having been nurtured.

For much of our lives we try to re-create that holy togetherness.

Whenever we have a special occasion, we need other people present. That’s what makes it a special occasion.

No one gets married without a partner.

No one celebrates an anniversary, a promotion, a graduation, by inviting people to stay away.

No high school attempts to raise morale by organizing a dance, a parade, a sports day, to which no one can come.

And Donald Trump will never hold a rally all by himself.

Inevitably, then, when COVID-19 isolation measures were eased, people were drawn together like iron filings to a magnet.

I’m not disputing the wisdom of the measures imposed to control the wildfire spread of the coronavirus. They were necessary. They worked. But they forced us to override thousands of years of social conditioning.

To control the coronavirus, we had to do the opposite of our natural inclination to cling together in times of trouble.

All over North America, regardless of a region’s politics, the significant increases in new cases are now happening among people in the 20- to 40-year-old age range.

For three obvious reasons.

First, they think they’re immortal. It hasn’t occurred to them yet that they could lose their lives by doing something stupid. That’s why their auto insurance rates are higher. And why they dive off cliffs into shallow water.

Second, they think they’re invincible. They’re strong. They’re healthy. They’re on their way up — unlike the previous high-risk populations who were on their way down. Care and caution are not part of their emotional vocabulary.

Third, they live in the present. Yesterday doesn’t matter; tomorrow will take care of itself. Let’s party, dude!

Traditional wisdom defines five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Since the COVID-19 restrictions were imposed, I have been able to use two of those senses, sight and sound, to see faces and share conversation, whether at a safe distance or through electronic technologies.

But the largest sense organ of my body, my skin, might as well have atrophied. I have been touched only by my daughter, in five months. My skin crawls with yearning to be close again.

It’s not rational; it’s innate.

So I can’t blame the Kelowna party-goers, even if they did launch a new wave of COVID cases. If I were younger, I would probably have joined them.

Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author and freelance journalist. He can be reached at rewrite@shaw.ca.