Life, but not as we know it

Today I saw my sister for the first time in almost four months. Outside and at a distance, but I saw her. We’re almost each other’s only family in Scotland so it was significant. Prior to the lockdown here I was in Australia and New Zealand visiting family and friends and had to return hastily. I arrived thirty six hours ahead of the new rules coming into force, disconsolate and wondering if I should have waited and tried to see more of New Zealand. At that point I don’t think I’d really grasped the scope of what was going on.

Earlier this week, apropos of nothing in particular, I caught myself pondering the new society in which we’re living. I find it astonishing that things can have changed so significantly in such a short space of time. When I left for Australia in February there was no suggestion, even from the most cautious of my acquaintances, that I should change my plans. Now, four months later, I’m celebrating the fact that I have been able to see my sister for a couple of hours in a deserted car park, halfway between our homes.

As a long-time young people’s specialist in libraries I’ve read many dystopian novels and I feel like I’m living in one now. Who would have thought that the good people of Scotland would accept being told to stay at home and not mix with those from another household? And even now, with a slight change to the official rules, most people (you’ll always get the selfish who feel that the rules don’t include them or who just don’t care) are still behaving as they’ve been told.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the Scottish Government has done the right thing in being cautious. I would rather take things slowly now (even though I’d love to have coffee somewhere with my sister or my friends) than have to do this all over again. Will mistakes have been made? Yes, because life is lived forwards and understood backwards to paraphrase Kierkegaard.

The idea of a new normal excites me and I hope that it will include living in a fairer society with less selfish values, where the people we’ve been applauding will continue to be recognised with improved pay and conditions and public perception. Just now, though, I’m finding it difficult to imagine that there will ever be anything approximating to normal life again.

Intellectually I know that things will change. We can’t spend the rest of our existence living like this, hiding from a disease. I know that scientists will discover treatments and protections and that COVID-19 will perhaps become something we accept like flu or measles; something to be avoided and to protect ourselves from but not something we are terrified of personally and governmentally.

But still I can’t picture myself going to the library or the theatre or Church, shopping for books or going out for a drink. I can’t even make my mind daydream about travel; I can write you a list of places I’d like to visit but only as an intellectual exercise. I can’t see myself in any of them. Of course, looked at logically, this has all lasted for a very short time and we’re still in the middle of it. Perhaps this time next year I’ll feel differently.

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