It is spring, and yet I am stuck in winter. Or maybe an autumnal bog, unable to escape from the doom of the upcoming months. Coronavirus is brandishing a dark cloud above everyone’s head, and its contents have only just started to spill onto the world; there is more to come.
It is evening as I stroll through my local park. Or perhaps stroll is the wrong word – dawdle? Lollop? Drift? A verb that embodies my gloom would be most appropriate. I am tired, but this is the sole exertion of my day; I am outside yet I feel trapped; I am emotionally drained despite having no social interaction, which would usually cause my introverted self to feel this way.
I pass strangers at a safe distance, two metres: I am faithfully adhering to the government’s guidelines. By their praise, it sounds as if I am sacrificing myself for my country like the soldiers of World War Two; they are certainly trying to imitate the lure of that propaganda. This action against the virus is not active enough, however: this inactivity makes me want to slide my hands into boxing gloves and spar with the invisible, microscopic virus. Anything would be ideal. Unfortunately, it is only the qualified health professionals who can heal the wounded. There are other vital roles, of course, but I want to be on the front line. Perhaps it is glamourised, similarly to World War Two. Would it not be for the worry of performing as the killer’s passage to my loved ones and others, I may be more careless about protecting my own wellbeing. But the desire to help is still there.
My thoughts follow a regular pattern: first, complaints begrudging the sheer injustice of having to follow nation-wide instructions to ‘Stay at Home’, banishing the busy bustle of life, leaving only a lonely, blank stave. Next a reality check, remembering the real reasons for social isolation and the importance of playing my part in the muted orchestra. Lastly, I check myself, realising that the true injustice is for those truly suffering – people barely surviving on scant supplies of food in both far away countries and the street two miles away; men and women struggling as self isolation has forced them into a recluse with a predator of an abusive partner; individuals with compromised immune systems playing a waiting game, living in fear of becoming the virus’ latest victim. It is a vicious circle, reflected in every aspect of my life: my daily turn (or two) of this park to fill in my 60 minutes of allotted exercise time a day, a daily call to my mum, an NHS worker, the ever-present solitude.
I feel strangely connected with every figure I see: they must experience the same sense of confinement, must have a similar, dark cloud lurking over their thoughts in spite of the evening sun beating down. Perhaps we have encountered each other before – I should have appreciated other people more before I was forced to evade them. Tonight, I have counted five human beings besides myself. The first wore a face mask and snorkel-like goggles, hopping off the path as to not permit the possible spreading of infection as we passed in opposite directions. The next, a girl on her phone, would have brushed shoulders with me had I not retreated to as safe distance. This seemed odd behaviour given the country being in a pandemic, but nothing compared to what came next. A group of three, clearly not from the same household, stood shoulder to shoulder like packed matchsticks, heads close as they laughed over something on one of their phones. Hot outrage surged through me. So my mother is risking her life on a daily basis in a ward comprised of coronavirus patients on ventilators and you regard it appropriate, even safe, to act in this manner? Tell me, please, is she working in vain, for you to treat your health like this?
Tonight, I think, I will take a detour through the playground. The swings are creaking, swaying back and forth, back and forth with the joyous swinging of two children whilst their mother stands watch; I smile at the sight.
“This is their first time outside all day,” their mother explains to me, noticing where my eyes are directed. Normally, I find it difficult to speak to strangers, but so starved am I of social interaction that I easily fall into conversation with her (whilst maintaining the standard distance). I laugh.
“Don’t think I could blame them – I feel exactly the same.” It is true – there is a childish delight in me at exiting my prison of a house and feeling the fresh air on my face. “How have you all been coping?”
“None of us like being cooped up. But I suppose it has to be done,” she resolves with a grit that I admire; it is so easy to moan.
“Exactly. Hopefully it will be over sooner rather than later if we just all stick to the guidelines.” She nods her head in agreement, beckoning her offspring off the swings, antiseptic gel and wipes at the ready for their hands. Once she has completed her hygiene regime, we exit through the gate together.
“Well – goodbye,” she says, headed in a different direction to me.
“Take care,” I nod back.
Perhaps her grit has inspired me, for there is a spring in my step on my way home. Now, I am seeing the true beauty of the world – was I walking around in a trance before? So besotted was I with my self-grief, I did not appreciate my surroundings. Daffodils are already beaming at me, their bright yellows and oranges breaking up the smooth green of the rolling slopes. Trees are regaining their leaves, standing proudly, having made it through the frosts of winter. The setting sun illuminates the evening, encompassing everything with a golden glow, threading a shining blanket around dusky silhouettes. Its warmth bathes my back, and I truly feel it for the first time in two weeks. Who cares if it is due to rain tomorrow? I am grateful for what I have now, and perhaps this is what we all need to do now – to live in the moment. Because if this coronavirus has shown us anything, it is the fragility of life and how loosely we are tethered to this earth. What really matters at the end of the day – industries like Hollywood and the superficial world of celebrity, or crucial key workers like NHS staff and supermarket staff, supplying essential food? From this moment, I swear to myself that I will endeavour to value the real things in life: connections with other humans and the incredible world that we live in.