I wake up with a sense of disbelief every morning. I have to pinch myself to remember that we are indeed living in this dystopian nightmare of a global Coronavirus lockdown. That it’s really true that all the huge and beautiful major cities of the world are empty, that office buildings are vacated, that planes are grounded, restaurants and cafes closed, that people are at home and discombobulated in their efforts to pretend that life has some kind of normality.
I never did enjoy dystopian novels or movies. No way would I watch the Handmaid’s Tale. But I can’t escape this one, can I?
This week our creative writing class shared pieces on ‘The Invisible Enemy’. The pieces written were poignant and thought-provoking and raised to my consciousness some of the fears and emotions I had been trying to keep at bay. Would I survive? Would my loved ones survive? How would our health service cope? What will the impact of this economic shock be on my sons and grandchildren and my extended family? Every day I think of my nieces, nephews, too, and wonder about the impact on their lives today and into the future.
And imagine if one was in a care home or heading towards the end of one’s life, one might be wondering, quite legitimately, whether one would ever see one’s children or grandchildren again, especially if they live the other side of the world. People are quick to be judgmental about air travel but forget how essential it is when close family live far away. Few of us would wish to be separated or unable to see our loved ones.
These existential concerns are very real and sadly they haven’t been created by Hollywood. We can’t just switch them off. They have been created by unhygienic practices in a Wuhan market and it’s pretty depressing to listen to a representative of the Chinese Government on the radio telling us what a wonderful job they have done collaborating with the WHO. I am far more interested in them taking responsibility for the part that their lack of regulations has done in bringing the rest of the world to a standstill and in the premature deaths of thousands of people. I would like to hear them say they will take control and alter these practices in future and be more aware of their responsibility for the wellbeing not only of their own citizens but also the wellbeing of the world’s population and economy.
Another theme of this situation is those who see it as a ‘message’. That somehow this event is here to tell us something about the way we live. Well I am not a believer in magical thinking, that there is some deity or force in the sky pointing fingers at us. But it is human nature to try to make meaning out of events, so it is hardly surprising that people are doing this. And that’s fine, as long as they realise that their own interpretation is just that. It is a narrative they are telling themselves and not some universal truth or message from above.
In this message I have heard on Facebook that we should now turn away from industry and capitalism and read books. A nice idea but it doesn’t feed us. I think we need to be careful of idealistic anti-materialism when in fact the last decades have raised so many millions out of poverty worldwide. Do we really want them to go back to hunger? I watch the workers in India struggling to get on trains and coaches at Modi’s behest and worry, as they do, that they are about to experience extraordinary hardship. We need to be careful that our idealism doesn’t throw huge swathes of the world’s population backwards into destitution. The world has relied on India for technology, help desks and more. Their welfare system is not capable of protecting them any more than I suspect is Africa’s. Let’s look after the planet, question greed, but tread carefully to ensure that we don’t make others suffer too much in the process.
We are now in the hands of the scientists and medics who are doing the detective work and analysis of Covid-19. They are trying to improve testing and create an antibody test. This latter is the one I am waiting for but I shall be thoroughly fed up if I discover that, having been sick for over a fortnight, I have not, in the process, built up useful antibodies to Covid-19. Then we shall hope for a vaccine. And let’s applaud the marvellous scientists who over the last centuries have saved so many lives with the vaccinations they developed. Our great-grandparents’ generation were not so lucky.
And so how does our idea of ourself change on the inside when the world changes on the outside? Is there some subtle shift of identity when we can no longer live life the way we did before, no longer see and hug our families, go to galleries or museums, pump iron at the gym, eat at nice restaurants? For sure we are thrown back on our own resources and no-one more so than those who live alone. The prospect of weeks ahead with no visitors is surely a kind of torture for most people but particularly those who are alone. They will require depths of resource in order to thrive in solitude. Thank heaven for technology! Even ten years ago we would not have had the access we do to teams and conference calls and house parties.
I think the stillness does invite us to go inwards, if we are brave enough to allow ourselves to do so. It has been so easy, in this brilliant creative and innovative world of the twenty-first century, to amuse ourselves endlessly with external activities. Children have never been so entertained or social, and nor have we as adults. As the world stops, so we are thrown back on ourselves and I suspect it will release aspects of our creativity we may not have known we had.
I wonder how the world will change as we come out of this shutdown. What will be lasting changes and what shall we soon forget in the years to come. One thing I have personally learnt is that the love of and for one’s children runs even more deeply than I had imagined, both ways. Secondly, the kindness of neighbours – food, newspapers, medicines, jigsaw puzzles and colouring pads presented generously to us on our doorstep to keep us from going mad or hungry!
And with that thought in mind one of those kind neighbours has given us a 500 piece double-sided jigsaw puzzle of identical plants… think of us! I shall let you know how we get on and hopefully it will keep us sane. In the meantime, keep well and as happy as you can. The blossom is telling us it is spring, the green shoots on the trees are budding and the landscape outside the window is ever-changing. Even in a lockdown, nature bursts forth.