The Self-Isolation Diaries III: Moral Questions (Part 1) Skip to content
Photo: RTH.

The Self-Isolation Diaries III: Moral Questions (Part 1)

Over the next few weeks, Iceland Review’s Ragnar Tómas will be publishing a series of articles on life in the time of COVID.

Every morning at 5.00am, a flock of starlings begins to chatter outside our window.

As our son wakes up at around the same time, we initially suspected that he was being roused by the birds. We were mistaken. One morning, I drowned out the birds’ vocalisations with the aid of a white-noise speaker and discovered, to my disappointment – that the boy still awoke at five.

Our mornings are always the same. As most people continue to enjoy their sleep, Hallgrímur (our son) rises in his crib like some bygone authoritarian resurrected. Looking over in my direction, he says – in a volume not becoming the hour – “Pabbi!” (Icelandic for dad). Jolted to my senses, I fumble for my phone amid the tangle of sheets. If I discover that the hour is somewhere in the vicinity of 5 (it’s useless arguing with him after 5-ish), I scoop the boy out of his crib and carry him into the kitchen for a fruit smoothie.

In the bathroom, as I urinate, brush my teeth, and dress, Hallgrímur totters drowsily on the floor and inhales his smoothie. Occasionally, he stops to butcher the names of random objects in the room (he’s actually quite precocious). After the bathroom, we descend into the solarium. He watches cartoons, I drink a protein shake and browse through the news on my phone.

It isn’t particularly uplifting. The Ministry of Health, following the recommendations of Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist, has mandated a two-week quarantine for international arrivals in Iceland (“effectively a travel ban,” according to the director of the Icelandic Travel Industry Association); Icelandair has announced that it will lay off more employees next month; and unemployment and domestic abuse are still on the rise (there were two murders in March).

But there is some good news, too. As the infections continue to decline, the schools are set to revert to a normal schedule on May 4 (God, thank you); the two boys who drove into Hafnarfjörður harbour in January – and spent almost 30 minutes in the water – are on the road to recovery (their hearts stopped beating for two hours); and the government is preparing to present the second phase of its COVID-19 response package*.

In the US, Donald Trump continues to inspire global disbelief with his (insert any negative superlative here) press briefings. My father, who has always kept to the principle of not discussing religion, sex, or politics with his American friends, is finding it increasingly difficult to bite his tongue on the latter subject; somehow, countless “educated” Floridians are incapable of seeing through the President’s cons.

Like most couples, my wife and I are spending more time together than ever, and we have gotten into our fair share of arguments (some speculate that the divorce rate will spike after the pandemic) – including one mild disagreement yesterday. During a discussion of the pandemic, I ranted that COVID-19 had exposed the dangerously hidebound mentality engendered by organised religion (see the last diary entry). She did not agree, and though I shall refrain from recounting the details of our argument, she did pose a rather apt question at the end of our debate.

“What would you like to replace it with?”

It’s a question I’ve been thinking a lot about for the past four years, a question that I am not in any way qualified to answer. But this is the thing about human beings – and the thing about crises, more generally: human beings habitually answer questions that they have no business answering, and during a crisis, this dubious inclination is further provoked. But, of course, this is wrong; every one of us must settle on some account of Good and Bad, for our decisions are based on those accounts – and our actions flow from those decisions.

Nonetheless, how very much like a damn fool I would have sounded if I had managed to open my mouth (thank God my son incessantly interjected with bíbí, Icelandic baby talk for bird).

(To be continued)

*The stimulus package was presented on April 21.

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