A few days ago I woke up sick. Not with Covid and not in any sick-of-the-pandemic sense either, but in the quotidian and familiar way that made me realize that I couldn’t remember the last time I’d actually had a sore throat. So it was sort of comforting to stumble my way around campus that day, drinking absurd amounts of tea and having accidental little micro-naps — my congested voice reminds me now that I’m not all there, and I kind of enjoy the nostalgia of being mildly ill.
That’s not to say that being sick is a good thing. Given my past year and a half of pathological fear of any hint of sickness, it seems novel somehow to imply that the experience of getting sick is just an everyday sort of thing, that what I feel right now is common. And it is common: everyone I know has either had this cold, or has it currently, or is very, very close to getting it. It’s a shared experience, like that of a rainstorm over campus: “some cold, huh?”
Campus is the perfect place for such a cold’s spread, after all — we live in a tightly-knit community of really not very many students. With so few degrees of separation between any of us, it makes sense that highly contagious (but not very dangerous) disease spreads like wildfire. This is the sort of College Experience that one normally expects of an early fall surrounded by so many new people, but it was still a little surprising to me. I suppose I didn’t really expect to get sick, given the vigor with which we all try to avoid it.
However, this cold is a little different — now, there is tacit understanding that we will ultimately end up healthy, that this physical manifestation of our recent and constant closeness will pass. Those of us with more severe symptoms skipped class for a better recovery, and all of us automatically switched into a take-care-of-ourselves mode of operation. There was no expectation that we, as a student body, would stop this cold. Instead, we allowed ourselves to be transported to a time in the past, taking sickness a little less seriously for just one moment, taking comfort in the knowledge that we will be okay.
When I wake up in a few days without a completely impassable nose and with a normal, smooth swallow, it won’t be a major triumph of care and recovery — my immune system will simply have rid me of this cold. It is the everyday triumph of the human body over a little invader, something that I won’t even remember after the next few colds. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to forget this, to be fairly confident that I won’t have to go another year without getting sick.
None of this is to say that we are done with this pandemic. The pandemic still fundamentally alters everyday life, and the restrictions we abide by are evidence of that. We must continue to fight this disease so that we may again merely be inconvenienced by everyday sickness. After all, it is almost a rite of passage for freshmen to get a cold in their first fall, right? And so this is the first time that I, and many of my friends, have gotten sick while being truly away from home.
Last night I sat with three of them, all of us in varying stages of sickness, and we worked together to make four cups of tea. I went to find my mug and an extra while one of us washed her own mugs, and another filled the communal kettle with water while the last collected blankets. We sat cross-legged under the light of a laptop screen and some Halloween decorations and sipped too-hot tea and felt warm. We made each other comfortable because we wanted to, and our little kindness made this place feel a little more like home.
Ultimately, that’s what a college should be. The inconvenience of the sicknesses that sweep through and around campuses like little wildfires allows for experiences like the above. Community is built around little adversities, like rainstorms over campus, or Insomnia being out of s’mores cookies, or a cold transferred from student to student to student. Because I experience these things alongside other people, I learn a little about them, and I have support in dealing with them. I learned quickly that we are essentially allies here, that being brought together on this campus is for a purpose, one that we all share. It’s a fascinating dynamic, to be around people who are largely actually like-minded on some level, who believe in their education and who (by and large) like their fellow students. Instead of closing off at the intrusion of a cold, we started a kettle. That’s what college has been like, for me. Exhausting, stressful, all-consuming, but warm.
So I am today more convinced than ever before that someday a cough won’t be scary. Someday I won’t be anxious in crowds. Someday I’ll wash my hands a little less obsessively. And someday, maybe, I’ll stop qualifying my statement when I say that I’m sick. In that way, my sore throat inspires confidence and paradoxically makes me feel just a little bit better. The runny nose could stand to go, though.