The prefix “co-” is diminutive but powerful. Attached to a noun, verb or adjective, the prefix creates a new word that implies “together” or “mutual”: We are co-producers, coexisting and cooperative.
What about “Covid”? I remind myself that the co(rona)vi(rus) d(isease of 20)19 does not lead off with a prefix; it is an acronym officially entered on Feb. 11, 2020 by the World Health Organization in the International Classification of Diseases.
The speller in me, though, is upset by the acronym’s aberrant “co,” which punishes closeness and rewards distancing and isolation.
I refreshed these lessons in spelling because of a recent conversation conducted through the hedge with our five-year-old neighbor, E, while her father and I worked on our respective gardens.
E: Ano ‘yan? (pointing with a soil-encrusted finger)
I explained that I wore a mask to protect me from Covid.
E: Ano ‘yang Covid?
Seen through E’s eyes, our families, though we share a wall and a hedge, differ. When she sees us in the outdoors, we wear face shields and masks.
Unvaccinated, E’s parents said they remain skeptical about the vaccines. We are scheduled for our second dose.
One household hardly mentions Covid; in the other, the acronym is as worn as a shirt washed for years.
Thanks to her talkativeness, though, our neighbor made me revisit some forgotten rules besides spelling.
Experts’ narratives of disease containment emphasize homogeneity: Only when about 50 to 90 percent of us are vaccinated can we reach herd immunity, keeping down the rates of infection and indirectly protecting those who are not immunized.
In our communities, we know how homogeneity is a fiction. As E exposed with two questions, community is not one big compliant and complacent mass but an accident of diversities, of unruly “us” and bull-headed “them.”
When we insert “versus” instead of “and” to bring together these discrete groups, we get a clash instead of community. Even a nuclear family can have a clash of nuclear personalities.
Yet, no one is untouched in this pandemic. Infections and deaths close in. Now, “it’s people you know,” says my sister.
Our desire to survive this pandemic is more powerful than fears, alibis, arguments. We hear better when we listen rather than confront and accuse.
We need to communicate more than ever. Yet, we must also check that we do not misinform (unintentionally) and disinform (purposively spread false information).
In not allowing a hedge, an embarrassed parent or a taciturn neighbor to stop her questions, E illustrated for me the miracle in this Covid coincidence: Sharing space and time, we co-create. Better solutions rather than problems.