In the week or so since I last wrote the world has shifted once more, with another layer of the UK’s Covid-19 response unfurling towards ‘lockdown.’ Citizens are restricted to a narrow range of activities, with outings from the home permissible only for work, obtaining food or medicines, helping the vulnerable or partaking in one period of exercise per day. As someone who has either worked at home, or been at home, for most of the last ten years, I’ve been struck by how little this differs from my normal lifestyle.
Plus, I’m an introvert.
Putting it bluntly, the last few days have made me realise how socially isolating my ‘normal’ life for the past few years has really been.
On a ‘normal’ week I spend most of my time alone (correction: with my dog) during office hours on weekdays. Once a week or so, I go to a café to do some writing, once or twice a month I meet up with friends for a coffee or a meal. I go to the library, I go to a writing group, I go to Parkrun with my husband and children, I go for the odd sea swim with a group of other women. That, and time spent with my parents and extended family (whom I miss dearly right now) is the sum of my social interaction. And I’m mostly fine with that. I’m alone a lot, but it’s okay.
Even my dog walks – an activity I do daily – were socially isolating long before the term ‘social distancing’ entered the everyday lexicon. My dog’s penchant for barking at other canines out for walks with their owners has meant that for years I’ve been turning the other way or crossing roads at the sight of approaching folks. I was ducking behind hedges to avoid people well before it was an acceptable – nay, commendable – pursuit for rule-abiding citizens. Over the past few days I’ve found some relief in the lack of strange looks directed at my odd behavior. I’ve noted the absence of any need for awkward gestures to encompass a message of ‘I’m-actually-a-really-nice-person-but-my-dog-will-bark-at-you.’ I’ve discovered, that for once in my life, I seem to be the normal one.
But nothing is really normal right now, is it? Even for introverts who duck behind hedges, and spend a lot of their time practising social isolation as the norm.
Outwardly, I feel fine, content to be safe and warm at home, and grateful for everything we have around us. But the subconscious tells its own story, and over the past week I’ve been suffering with insomnia, bad dreams that come to wake me in the night. Dreams of being chased, dreams of running away, dreams of trying to get somewhere on a course fettered with obstacles. I’ve been tired and achy, too tired to write, too tired for the list of jobs that press at the back of my mind, goading me with their insistence of productivity. They are wrong I think, and I’ve granted myself the grace to ignore them. This will be a marathon and not a sprint, I know. There will be days for energy, and days where just existing is okay.
Over the last week, I’ve found my anchors, the things that level me. They turned out to be the same things they always were – home, family, gratitude, routine, exercise, reading, my dog, the irresistible pull of nature and the sea. I woke one morning to the noise of geese flying arrow-like over our home in noisy formation, and found it glorious. A robin popping out from between rocks as I walked my daily loop was a tiny miracle in itself. Birdsong abounds, Spring blooms, evening light lingers. Nature continues unabated, a humbling, comforting reminder of how insignificant we really are.
I hear people say that the world will be different afterwards – after this is over. I wonder to myself – what will be different, and what will be the same? Will we be kinder? Will we be more gentle with one another? Will we reach out more often to our neighbours? Will there be more, at last, that unites us than divides?
On our daily walks, I find less litter to pick up, the world seeming clearer somehow, a harsh reminder of how careless we have been with our planet. And despite it all, she rolls out Spring for us, in hopeful hues of yellow. She forgives us. After all of this is over, will we be more gentle with her, too?
I look at my children, and think of all the ways they will remember this. Will they recall clapping into starry evenings, pointing to rainbows on windows, recounting all the ways that people were being kind? I hope so, as we FaceTime Grandparents and think about the benefits of homeschool, being together, cocooned and safe and cosy. I hope one day we’ll tell the next generation of children, not about being ‘locked down,’ but about what it was like that time we had to hibernate in Spring.
And when this is all over, I hope we don’t return too soon to ‘normal.’ Perhaps one thing we’re learning is that our ‘normal’ can’t go on the way it has. Perhaps when this is all over we’ll look back, and realise how much we learned – about ourselves, about each other, about how connected we all are.
About how much we all need each other.
And like the Winter garden that turned towards Springtime, just how beautifully we bloomed.
Sending love and thoughts to all affected by Covid-19.