“What is this virus, Theo?”
Theo: “It’s a virus that makes children go away.”
These are the words of a three and a half year old who is asking: “Why aren’t there any children in school?” during the days after the order to shelter at home was issued.
Theo did not say that the virus made adults sick, nor that it scares parents and teachers. The child was making a subjective observation of his experience; since the virus arrived, there were no more children at school. Theo concluded that they’d all taken flight.
He did not speak of coughs, fever, pain, fatigue or the loss of smell. He told us what he saw. There are no more children in school, and we only saw the same people at home. Right there, that was the great mystery.
The great mystery for Theo, and for those of us trying to understand the theories of our youngest, is: Why did these people find themselves in this place, virtually imprisoned, or else running away? Like everyone else, this child needs to forge his own explanation about those things that are both indecipherable and impossible to understand.
Parents, seizing upon these words, find themselves in the position of Roberto Benigni in Life Is Beautiful, trying to make a civilized hypothesis out of an inexplicable situation. The flight has now become a confinement, a hibernation. Adults find themselves stiffening their lip and enduring the crisis, ceasing even to greet others because there is this “little sickness that’s making its rounds.” So then, since we can no longer greet people, or even fight like we did before, we can at least hear, and maybe even listen to, the birds sing.
This is also a virus that can be communicated by Zoom, that flashes it lights and merits applause and cheers every night at 9:00 pm. We, too, share our thoughts about the flight, and these absences; and yet calls for help have greatly diminished during these first few weeks of confinement. Therapists, like all other doctors, are awaiting a wave; the moment where the screams and cries, the tears and pain, will need to be addressed in order to make sense of the madness. The moment where pleasure, peace, even the action of social distancing must be subsumed in order to avoid the alternative––catching the disease. It is thus that there is a unique and special place reserved for the analyst; this opportunity to welcome these little truths that we all have, and to have others share their own theories. Understanding and concluding, like Theo, that “there is this little virus making its rounds that makes children go away.”
Translated by Aubrey Mayo