19 during Covid-19: Finding solace in strangers

Five interns at The Sunday Times reflect on how the pandemic has affected their lives and what they have learnt during this period of enforced isolation

Saturday evenings in my family usually mean eating out and catching a movie in the theatres.

But a recent Saturday looked nothing like this. After a rare home-cooked meal, my family and I gathered round the living room to watch The Phantom Of The Opera's 25th anniversary concert on YouTube.

Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber had made the 2011 recording available that weekend, as part of a series of free musical screenings to raise money for The Actors Fund in support of Covid-19 emergency relief.

Many around me have found similar ways to occupy themselves in this period. I know of friends who are watching concerts and my parents have been revisiting old recordings of ballet shows.

I think the appeal of these "live" showings lies in their ability to recreate the experience of attending a performance in real life. Be it a livestream or an archived recording, they transport me to wherever the performers may be.

But perhaps more interestingly, they place me in a virtual crowd, together with countless others from across the globe.

This circuit breaker has taught me that strangers play a surprisingly crucial role in our lives. Without them, we risk believing we are alone. Which is why streaming these shows is so important.

In a way, every viewer, including myself, is a "phantom". We exist behind the masks of profile pictures and user names, leading online lives as avatars rather than actual people. But unlike the one in the musical, I think our phantoms instil a sense of fellowship rather than fear.

When it seems like the world has shrunk to my circle of family, friends and colleagues, a funny anonymous comment or even just a five-million viewership count remind me that this is a global humanitarian fight.

In a world where the pandemic has shown us things far uglier than a disfigured face, I have learnt to find solace and solidarity in faceless and nameless phantoms around the world.

The writer, 19, watching a musical with her family during the circuit breaker period.
The writer, 19, watching a musical with her family during the circuit breaker period. PHOTO: COURTESY OF LIM REI ENN

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 10, 2020, with the headline 19 during Covid-19: Finding solace in strangers. Subscribe