As I sit here on a pleasantly warm and sunny evening in June, I feel, for the first time in a long while, a compulsion to write. This is unusual as it’s typically an emotional event that prompts me to fire up the laptop and start typing; tonight, I feel contented.
But why? We’re in the middle of a global pandemic, life as we knew it has been turned on its head and looks like being severely disrupted for many months to come.
That’s not to say I haven’t been thinking a lot about everything going on around me, just that where we are right now has an eye-of-the-storm calmness about it. The immediate panic-stricken response seems long in the past – even though in reality it was just a few months ago – yet we are far from out of the woods. However, like a toddler walking for the first time, the country is continuing to make small and tentative steps towards restoring life to how it was before. Of course, it might not be like before and I’ve lost count of the number of times people refer to the “new normal” almost to the point it has become a single word.
I said I was calm tonight, but underneath I feel an underlying sense of unease. Despite the initial baby steps, the appetite is there to lift restrictions at an increasing pace. Once the flood gates have been opened, it’s going to take one hell of an effort to close them again.
Lots of the shops opened up again today and from the pictures online, it seems that thousands of people have been champing at the bit to engage in a bit of retail therapy beyond clicking on the ‘buy now’ button. Is it just herd mentality fuelled by targeted social media advertising or is there a sense of desperation out there from people to rediscover a little of what life was like before all this happened?
I wasn’t one of the thousands and not just because I was working (at home) today. If I’m entirely honest, there is a part of me that is thriving off life at present. Of course, I am devastated by the cost to human life that the world has experienced in the last six months. Easy to forget that every number is a person: a mother, a father, a daughter, a son, a friend, a lover and all those affected by death during these times will, no doubt, wish that none of this ever happened. In that sense, tonight’s words indeed should be taken in perspective and could be perceived as nothing more than some self-indulgent self-reflection. I beg forgiveness if this is how it comes across.
However, I want to tap into something bigger than my own feelings and I suppose I hope that by sharing, I can spark some thoughts in your own minds.
What was life like before?
Routine; busy; daily commute; traffic jams; swimming; face-to-face meetings; planes in the sky; family get-togethers; crowds at football matches; trips to town; rushing; school runs; plenty of pasta; cinema; beer in a pub; freedom to travel; life passing by; and traffic fumes.
The list could go on and these were some that popped into my head. You will see that some of these are aspects of life which I dearly miss but, equally, there are some elements of that life that I could do without experiencing ever again. I genuinely don’t miss the faster pace of life before; the tick tock of my natural metronome is more in step with the tick tock of life around me presently. And I like that.
That said, I do want (and need) to go swimming again and I long for a Sunday roast with all the family talking over each other at the dinner table rather than on a Zoom call. I want a beer in a pub even though a pint costs almost a fiver. I want to travel again. I want my kids to get back to school so they can see their friends and re-start learning in a classroom (or the playground).
Work is going to be an interesting one. Not just for where I work but for companies up and down the country and across the globe. Have we witnessed a seismic shift to virtual companies with almost no office estate? Will those of us who can work from home ever return to the office where we previously spent countless hours? How will we cope in a face-to-face meeting without being able to turn off the camera and microphone for an enormous yawn? Will people still need season tickets or has the daily commute by bus or train had its day?
Time. I feel I have so much more of it than before. Time for family, time for oneself, time for reflection, time for hobbies, time to waste. Time is the commodity of greatest value that we all seem to have more of. Gone is the harsh 6.15am alarm – I haven’t set my alarm for months – and gone is my morning stomach ache from the mad rush corralling the kids so they are ready in time to leave for school. In fact, as I write this, gone is my cramping stomach altogether. Wow, that’s one I hadn’t clocked until now. The Buscopan will be going out of date!
Could some of this be the newnormal? Or is this merely a holiday from life before, with life after becoming much the same as before. Perhaps my eye-of-the-storm analogy is more fitting than I first thought and this is merely the calm in between before and after with not much changing after all?
I suppose what I want to say is that I hope some of this change is permanent; we should hold on desperately to what we currently have and value so dearly for there is every chance that it will be wrenched from our grasp before we know it and, over the years, become nothing more than a distant memory. Remember when we baked all that bread? Remember when we went walking every afternoon? Remember all those films we watched as a family? If only we had time to do those things again…
Maybe this is why I have felt compelled to write this evening (it is still warm just a little darker); I want to capture this moment, revel in its calmness and hope that life before and life after are similar…but not the same.