June 2, 2020
News Opinion

PAUL HOPKINS: Life in the time of coronavirus: Finding our other selves while living in lockdown

Let’s park aside the fact that this time of living with the coronavirus ain’t going to end any time soon; that when the world emerges from lockdown it will be a different world for some time to come, in that in the coming months we might have restaurants but no music festivals, offices but no crowded beaches, pubs unlikely, and holiday travel, well, that will be on a wing and a prayer.

Nobody is saying that life in self-isolation is a bowl of  guacamole; it’s not, particularly for those domiciled in squat surroundings or those with anxiety or mental health issues. And for those working from home it can be a whole new ball game, while home-schooling is untested territory.

For those without kith or kin, loneliness at the best of times can be overwhelming  — in lockdown it is positively alienating. (One survey puts the number of people in Ireland experiencing loneliness at 400,000 —  pre-Covid-19).

Despite the downside, there are positives, not least the lack of our carbon footprint on the world. Bird song and blue skies and the air we breathe, when venturing out for exercise or necessary shopping, has never seemed so heavenly. Otters are back.

Being confined to barracks is teaching us a thing or two about ourselves and about those with whom we share the intimate aspects of life. We are becoming more resilient, more inventive, more creative. More patient, dare I suggest, with each other and each other’s peccadilloes, irritating as they may be.

Others are discovering their creative selves by taking up a new hobby like learning a language or doing one of the many, now free, online courses; becoming experts on all and sundry from Zen Buddhism to Zootonic infections and, if you have to ask what is the latter, you just have not been paying attention the last while. Others are learning to cook, although the many bemoaning the closure of fast-food outlets has me despair of people’s adherence to proper diet. Others are catching up on reading, music, classic movies, becoming adept at social media or just doing all those things you always wanted to, had you the time.

The most basic aspect of lockdown is just getting to know each other 24/7 — although one friend suggests the best thing about social distancing is you don’t have to say hello any more to that idiot you cannot stand. And home-schooling has never offered a better time for parents to cultivate the finer aspects of good parenting, something I believe most will look back on with avid appreciation.

For me, the last weeks have never felt so wonderfully good. I am now 12-weeks alcohol free  — excess booze does not help anyone right now but that, and my abstinence from such, is for another day’s telling.

Alone, I live now for each moment, moments lived more fully, manifest in meaning. I find myself  re-sensitised to the satisfaction of the simple things life offers. Early summer has never been sunnier, despite the lurking shadows of the coronavirus. I find people I meet, on my daily walk and from that safe distance, of abiding interest. The realisation too that this rogue microbe could, in theory, annihilate us sees small pleasures having greater meaning now; the walk by the water, my friend’s just published book of essays, my daughter’s phone calls.

I find myself unwontedly calm, like riding a bicycle without using my hands.

That said, now that we live in a world that has changed dramatically in just a short time, I wonder if people are comparing their more challenging, less comfortable circumstances with those whose lives are much harder and more frightening —  those working selfishlessly on the frontline, those living in abject circumstances, those suffering loneliness.

Hopefully, when faced with a (relative) degree of pain, we are better able to value how, in fact, blessed we are. That, in comparison, ours is not the greatest suffering. That history records that far worse has happened.

However, as individuals, we experience life immediately and personally. For people who have lost, and those who will lose, a loved one to the coronavirus, no amount of contextualising will make is easier. It will be devastatingly personal.

As Mark Twain wrote: “Nothing that grieves us can be called little: by the eternal laws of proportion, a child’s loss of a doll and a king’s loss of a crown are events of the same size.”

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