By HOWARD FELDMAN
Much like Gwyneth Paltrow, I am not sure if I will be able to cope with another lockdown. If government statistics are to be believed, South Africa will shortly be entering the third Covid wave, which might well mean increased restrictions. An unremarkable vaccine roll-out, lockdown fatigue and a winter season all but guarantees that the next few weeks will present a challenge.
In addition, the reality that the Indian and UK variants (I cannot be expected to remember their scientific names) are now in the country makes it pretty much a done deal.
Although I have not actually discussed my worries with Paltrow, I know that she shares my concerns and anxiety. Neither of us handled the last lockdown particularly well. Her suffering was significantly worse than mine was. She did, after all, admit that during the American lockdown, she hit an incredibly low moment which resulted in her breaking down and eating bread.
In her lowest and darkest moment, Gwyneth Paltrow reached for carbs. It’s true. And although The Guardian fails to provide details as to the nature of the actual flour and if the bread was wholewheat or rye, it is fair to say that when the chips are down, it hardly matters.
Suffering is suffering.
Twitter being Twitter, was predictably unkind to her. There were no thoughts and prayers; no one sent virtual hugs; and no light and love flowed across the platform. A particularly unsympathetic follower responded, “In 2020, I lost my big brother, my dog of 12 years and saw the end of my 16-year marriage. But at least I had the internal fortitude to resist eating a sourdough bagel”.
In a fit of unkindness, another said, “Guessing you’ll probably hear a lot of, ‘had to bury one of my parents but couldn’t actually attend the funeral,’ but yeah, eating bread is probably just ahead of that.”
The discussion around Paltrow’s lowest point is an interesting one. As absurd and embarrassing as it might be, it does highlight the complexity around the 21st Century game of competitive suffering. I happen to be terrible at this and am told by my own children that my use of the phrase, “If that’s what you are complaining about, then you are truly blessed” is not going to win me the father of the year award. And I do get that. Their suffering is theirs and the fact that there is always a child in Syria who would do anything for our problems, is not helpful at all. Besides, my daughter was quick to explain, it’s not like they failed an Afrikaans test in Damascus.
I recall during lockdown 1.0, when I unwisely complained on social media about the challenges of broadcasting from home. I found being out of a studio particularly difficult and I wanted to share my experience. Although some appreciated the observations and responded with kindness, others included comments like “You are ungrateful and arrogant. At least you have a job!” Yes, of course I was incredibly grateful but that didn’t make the difficulties any less real. I knew then as I know now that I was and am in a privileged position and that many South Africans were not so fortunate. But following this logic to its natural conclusion, there will be only one winner of the misery competition who will have the right to vent. The rest of us had best shut up, because we are fortunate and blessed and better off than the kid in Syria, who doesn’t have to learn Afrikaans.
Perhaps the answer relates to common sense more than it does to anything else. The old adage that education means knowing that a tomato is a fruit and wisdom means knowing not to use it in a fruit salad, is best applied. It might be that Paltrow’s carb-collapse is real and painful, but it doesn’t mean that the majority of us will empathise with it. Even if we became diabetic alcoholics three weeks into the first lockdown, we are more than likely to react with incredulity – as most did.
Twitter user Carolyne responded: “If I had to make a list, it was probably when my mom died, closely followed by three hurricanes hitting the state in the middle of a goddamn pandemic, followed by when I was sick for a month with the virus, but I hope Gwyneth is okay.” To which James responded: “But did you eat bread? That’s what matters.”
As South Africa heads into the third wave, it is likely we will never get answers as to why the vaccine procurement and roll out was so slow, and why cigarettes were targeted and banned during the first lockdown, much like we will now never know if it was rye, wholewheat or spelt that symbolised the lowest point of Gwyneth’s year.