It's Wednesday afternoon when I go to the Italian barbershop a short walk from my apartment. As I approach the glass exterior I can see the place is empty, the mood is sombre, and everyone is wearing masks.
My barber, Andre, sprays something into my hands as I walk inside, I assume it's alcohol but I barely have time to check. While I'm settling into my chair he goes to make me an espresso, which arrives in a plastic cup instead of the usual ceramic. I'll take coffee in any form I can get it, but it's another reminder that things are different today.
I find always find barbershop small talk awkward, but I have no idea what to talk about now.
"Let's go for something shorter this time, I don't know how long I'll be stuck at home."
Wait, that's really not what he needs to hear, why did I say that?
"How are your family, are they safe?"
He tells me they're in lockdown in Romania, it's similar to the situation in Italy, but they are safe.
He probably doesn't want to think about that right now, why am I bringing it up?
Then I remember we talked about dating before.
That's safe to talk about, right?
"Now would be a great time for you to get back on Tinder, you know..."
"Just tell them you have lots of toilet paper at home."
A bigger laugh this time.
Gradually the tension dissipates and we flow into a more natural conversation.
But the difficulty getting to that point was because of uncertainty.
I wasn't really sure what to say or how it would be received.
I know you're facing uncertainty right now with everything that's happening around you.
When scientific systems, economic systems, and systems of government fail to provide answers, you feel helpless.
Collectively our trust in systems, experts, and even Truth has been eroded.
You've seen it happen in my country, the United Kingdom, with Brexit.
You've witnessed the spread of bots, trolls, and misinformation on social media.
People are even starting to believe that the Earth is really flat, thousands of years after the Greeks discovered it isn't.
What's happening globally as people are locked down under quarantine is a reversion to what David Chapman calls the choiceness mode.
"In the choiceless mode, you are defined by your relationships; mainly family ones. Being a daughter, mother, and cousin determines what you feel and do. The function of your self is balancing your personal impulses with the needs of others, according to those roles. Morality—being a good person—means maintaining harmony by conforming to collective clan decisions. The choiceless self belongs, and is embedded in a web of mutual caring."
When you peel back the surface, this is all you really have.
All that you're left with is your relationships, your community, and the meaning that you derive for yourself.
If this crisis teaches you anything, please let it be that you must find your own answers.
The way I choose to navigate it is using stoicism, if you'd like to find out more about the stoic approach to this, I spoke briefly about it on IGTV.