If ever there was a time to use the word discombobulated, this is it. It’s been a long and unsettling summer but just as the air clears from the ravaging bush fires and Autumn touches her umber paint brush to the leaves on the trees, we find ourselves, yet again, in a surreal world for which we have no experience.
Life has changed dramatically, but also looks remarkably the same. The sun still shines, the grass is still green, buildings stand and there are people and busses and work to be done and bills to be paid. And yet, we suddenly find ourselves in a world where an invisible foe has thrown our daily rhythms and patterns into complete disarray.
Perhaps most starkly, we are being asked to forego something that is intrinsic to our nature – social contact. Jazz hands have replaced handshakes for now but perhaps we might soon find ourselves confined to onscreen conversations and WhatsApp Wine time. Social distancing is difficult because it is foreign, and as a result uncomfortable. We like gathering in groups – park runs, church services, footy games, the theatre and on and on. So much of our life is built around connecting to others, and so much of our wellbeing comes from being in community with others. To have this disrupted leaves us confused and clearly in a state of panic.
I think a lot of (my) anxiety comes from endlessly anticipating possible outcomes. Will someone in my family get sick, will we run out of toilet paper, will we go into lock down, will the schools close? We have so much access to information, but it’s hard to separate out the facts from the fear and general nonsense – and we tend to trust anecdotes and advice from friends and family more than our leaders. This pandemic situation is inherently uncertain. The lack of control, and perhaps general distrust in the system, creates a sense panic. Panic takes on a life of its own, seemingly unstoppable, as the nation gears up for an anticipated “lock down” (that has yet to be flagged as appropriate). Social contagion and mob behaviour interest me but being in the middle of all those empty shelves is scary.
Lock down? Even that phrase sounds ridiculous. As if we’ve been thrust into a dystopian novel. Just watching Years and Years was unsettling, and this has some of the same feels. Perhaps that is the thing – we’ve only really experienced this type of thing vicariously, on the screen or in history books. It feels familiar, but only at a safe distance – one you can leave behind and head into a coffee shop to recalibrate from.
But of course this is not a dystopia. It is a situation that requires an unprecedented response, one of which we are capable. For once, the enemy is not our fellow humans, but one that we can jointly fight together. We have a strong health care system, largely intelligent leaders and a plan of attack. We are a stoic nation of fair minded people, most of whom will call for calm and kindness, and not resort to violence over toilet paper. The sun will come up tomorrow, and at some point, life will return to some semblance of the ordinary.
I lurch towards anxiety in the daily course of normal life. In an effort to maintain some sanity and keep my mind still, I am practicing being present: being in the moment and interrogating it for joy. I am tending to the garden of my own mind, and trying to clear it of the weeds of fear that could so easily take hold.
Yesterday I bought a plant, admired the beauty of the setting sun and enjoyed sparring with my kids over the dinner table. Today I walked the dog in the silver dewy stillness of morning and listened to the birdsong that continues unabated in the blue sky of today. This crisis will pass but focusing all our energy on hanging in there and just waiting for it to end also feels like a waste of precious time. Life goes on, whether the road is in shadow or the light.
Perhaps this is a lesson for life in general? Although we feel most comfortable moving purposefully forward, meaning is found in the moments we have and the perspective we take within them. Despite the upheaval of our best laid plans, there is still beauty in the world to bask in, avenues for our curiosity and space for reflecting. Perhaps the gift of these torrid times is a reminder to slow down and enjoy what we have, when we have it, rather than always focussing so intently on the future.