My suburb is going into lockdown tonight for the second time. I had just begun to enjoy being out in the world again (cautiously), albeit without hugs and kisses with friends. While I don’t feel the same level of anxiety mixed with relief this time, I am feeling like this thing may keep happening and that we will never really get on top of it.
Last year I helped the English team at school select a novel to replace another for the Year 12 students this year. The one that jumped out at me was Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I devoured the book and loved how different it was to many other dystopian/apocalyptic books. I loved the jump of 20 years to see how humans behave beyond a global disaster (spoiler: the same way humans always have behaved). When the students returned this year with their dog-eared copies, we laughed about how reality was mirroring the book. We chatted about how reality could help with their understanding of the book.
Then the fear and anxiety rose around us as COVID landed on our shores.
In the midst of lockdown when folks were posting pics of the sourdough starters, indoor plants, Zoom setups, people began to imagine a world where we all changed because of COVID. How we’d all be nicer, better people. How we’d spend more time cherishing the moments.
Cases of wine clinked from vendors to trucks to homes. Parents vented frustration and anger at having to home school. Teachers complained of headaches and worsening eyesight. Star Track and Aussie Post put on new drivers as homes filled with all the things that people hadn’t realised they didn’t have before. Dogs wondered why the gods had looked down on them with such delight and cats wondered the opposite.
We all said that the new normal will be different. Nicer. Kinder. Cleaner.
But, if we consider Station Eleven, will it? Or are we more likely to revert to old behaviours?
Certainly in the short time I had out in the world again, behaviours slipped. Things were changed, but rude people are still rude. Selfish people are still selfish. People still move about the world without thinking about how their actions may affect others. The minute people heard that cases were rising, the supermarkets noted a rise in purchases (damn that toilet paper!) and reinstated the restrictions on purchases.
Last week was my son’s seventeenth, and as I had no brain capacity to remember in time to order anything, I had to visit The Mall. I went early on a Monday morning in the hope that I would not be swallowed up by people. Initially it was okay. I moved freely as there were not that many people there. By the time I left, however, it was brimming with people who seemed to be there for a window shop. I couldn’t get out fast enough.
Now, as Melbourne digests the reality of rising infection rates people are trying to find ways around the lockdowns. The truth of the highly infectious virus seems to not stick with us, possibly because we haven’t seen the catastrophe here that is in other countries; we are the lucky country after all. It is only when we stop to think past ourselves in a pandemic that we realise that we all have to do the right thing and hang out at home for a little longer.
Me? I’m going to continue to Stay At Home. I’ve still got my list of things I never did with the first lockdown! Life will go on, for most of us. It is tough. I speak from a position of privilege of a house with space, of not having young children to care for. My son who is visiting for the semester break is going to get tested, and if negative will (sadly) take his safe bubble back to his country town for the rest of his break. I’ll continue to support my local businesses who I do not want to go out of business. The flats that are in hard lockdown are in a very different situation. I worry about the families in there. Many of my students live in them. I don’t know how they are going to cope.
I did finish one thing that I set out to do last time on my list, so who knows, I may even finish this manuscript this time. Time to sink into reading, writing and crafting again, and time to think about how to support the other locals who will struggle so much more.