It is December 31st, 2019. We cast our gaze skyward and contemplate the year ahead. We have a feeling this year might throw up a few challenges, we don’t know why, it’s just a passing feeling of unease. We hope we have it in us to get through whatever life is gearing up to throw our way, then we shrug it off, sip our drink and return to the party. Things start off quite well, work carries on in its usual sporadic way and the winter months offer ample opportunities to enjoy nature and outings with our families. Then sometime in February the first ripples of disturbance appear. A novel virus is spreading silently among us, but it’s over there, for now. A particular brand of scaremongering begins to emerge, we don’t know whether to take it seriously, so we don’t. Soon we realise there is definitely trouble brewing, but no one knows how bad it is going to get. We say prophetically, “it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better,” but we don’t really mean it.
The legacy of our obsession with the end-of-the-world plays out as we panic buy to protect our immediate future. Really, we are just satisfying a need to claw back control of our rapidly changing worlds. The year goes on and the walls begin to go up. First social gatherings are restricted, then face masks become mandatory. Soon schools are closed and then, our offices. We work from home and become teachers. We don’t know how to do both. The terms social distancing, self isolation and quarantine became part of our daily vernacular and we learn about r nought. We wake up suddenly one day to a world where the things we took for granted are now relics of a distant past measured in weeks. People say our way of life has been changed forever.
But the transition passes surprisingly quickly. A ‘new normal’ has arrived and we reluctantly batten down the hatches, light a candle and began to get to know the people we’d lived with all this time but had hardly noticed. Connections are reaffirmed, old relationships rekindled, our lives squashed together, but six feet apart, by forces beyond our control. We are forced to take stock, in that uncomfortable lockdown space, and reflect on what really matters. We laugh and cry, we share old stories, toast old friends, pledge to change our lives and to “do this more often.” No one is more surprised than us when we realise how much we really needed that. But soon those halcyon weeks become months, and we grow impatient. We did what you asked of us, so when can we get on with our lives?
We didn’t notice while we were busy finding ourselves that the world we left behind was being broken down and rebuilt, but without us in it. Our ways of life, our jobs, our livelihoods, our responsibilities, our very identities wiped away with a sterile cloth. Our future had been negotiated without us, our lives reduced to a formality in someone else’s business plan. The new found zeal for a life that we took for granted rendered obsolete before we’d even had a chance to implement our new beginning.
And when we turn to our neighbour to decry the injustice of it, they have already turned to something else. Everywhere we turn we see those who suffer as we do who and have no room to listen, or those already moving on, brushing off a glancing blow. They are the lucky ones not left behind in that dark place. They move forward into the light while we remain. Fists clenched, we look to no one, feeling like no one. We are left there, alone and confused, wondering what happened and where it all went wrong. Cosmic laughter mocks us, rejoicing in how pathetic we’ve become. Not so long ago we were naively going about our business without a care in the world, serving ourselves, blissfully unaware of how tenuous was the thread upon which our lives were balanced.
The sun sets now on that year, where things did get a whole lot worse before they got better. And we daren’t hope that the worst is passed, we daren’t cast a glance beyond today or even tomorrow, for fear of what lies in wait. We keep our gaze low, shuffling along, hoping not to be noticed for we don’t know how much more we can take and hope is for the ignorant. We imagine the stories that will be written one day and we long to know the ending, to put an end to the uncertainty, to just get it over and done with, whatever happens. The not knowing is the worst part.
We look again skyward, not to a future which is uncertain, but instead to a seagull, which is real. Wheeling and soaring overheard, with no particular purpose to its movement, we escape our earthly bonds. We ride upon its shoulders, feel its crisp feathers moving beneath us as it twists and turns, this way and that. We feel the cool breeze sting our eyes and just exist, detached, away, free. We hope we can stay, we know we can’t, so we close our eyes and enjoy the fleeting gust while it lasts and call out with the seagull, forgetting for just a moment who we were and who we have become.