This is a very personal post, but one I must share. Twelve years ago, I had savings, and was going to purchase a house. I worked whilst navigating a fall that saw me break my spine again, and a toddler-aged daughter. I was always cautious with finances, ensuring that I paid bills on time. I had been on a disability pension from the age of seventeen, to my twenties. A dear lady named Dorothy came up to the house from Centrelink, imploring me to quit being stubborn and accept the help that was being offered. I did so reluctantly, after having had surgery to save my life, after my heart and lungs were being crushed due to a hip grafted into my spine, which hadn’t taken. Upon my engagement, I gleefully contacted Centrelink, advising them of my situation, and the payments ceased. I didn’t claim anything from Centrelink in the ensuing years. I had a business, and work. A marriage breakdown changed everything. It’s paralysing, the terror that skulks up on you in the middle of the night, knowing that you are entirely responsible for the well-being of your child.
The investments were cashed in, and my savings dwindled over the next couple of years. Operations and other expenses took what was left. It was only when I was at crisis point, that I was able to claim anything from Centrelink. The industries I had been in were now either dying or defunct, and studying new pathways was required. I asked about Austudy, but was told that it would be even less than Newstart. I studied two full-time courses. Medical Admin saw me having to travel to pracs, and I would pray that there was enough on my Opal card to make the journey there and back.
$450.76…This is what I was living on whilst studying. $450.76 a week, consisting of Job Seeker (or Newstart allowance as it was back then), Family Tax Benefit A and B, Energy Supplement and Rent assistance. My rent alone was $430 a week, which left just $20.76 to live on. My rental is humble, one of the cheapest in the area. I had to let go of seeing a dentist, optometrist, and also of my private health insurance. When my teeth hurt, I would go through bottles of local anaesthetic, dabbing it on the exposed nerves. I couldn’t afford scripts for my pericarditis, nor for other health issues. I had to forgo the fruit and veg box I’d ordered for the past decade.
I took whatever casual work I could, so we could buy food. I worked as an extra on a series, and (dressed in summer clothes, even though it was winter), came down with pneumonia. It was a heartache, having to scrounge together the money to afford medicines. I would do anything and everything for work, and ensured I never missed a rent payment. Birthday celebrations had to be abandoned. I would back out of any social invitations. I felt ashamed, fearing nobody would understand, not knowing how to divulge the reality of my life. I became paranoid about stretching our pantry items, and basically ceased eating regular meals at all. Everything was my daughter’s, and hers alone. I daren’t invite anyone over, as there wasn’t enough food to offer them a meal. I raced through my studies, anxious to get a job. I applied for scores of positions, but there were tens of applicants for each one, some of whom had more experience than I. It was soul-destroying, when it was down to the last three applicants, and I was pipped to the post. If it weren’t for a few dear people, I wouldn’t have been able to afford school uniforms, printer ink, stationery, and other essentials. Kindness bought work boots, a medical transcription course and hope. It bought hand sanitiser, a stocked pantry and medical supplies shortly before the pandemic crashed in. The one thing I’d been determined to hold onto was my life insurance. I started to believe that perhaps, I was worth more dead than alive; my daughter would at least have security. The level of despair ran deep.
Covid-19 hit in March, and everything started to change. I had recently obtained my White Card and other tickets, only having one assessment left to complete, on a work site. It renewed hope. The pandemic shut everything down, and suddenly, a large proportion of people were studying and working from home alongside me. Newstart was transferred into Job Seeker, and the amount received was doubled. I was able to order a fruit and veg box for $50; enough to see us through the next fortnight. I was able to pay bills without stressing. I was able to buy groceries, without having to seek help from a charity. I enrolled in several free courses through TAFE, and pretty much studied seven days a week throughout the next few months. I ate regular meals, and my health improved. I could afford medicine and medical appointments. I applied for as many jobs as I could throughout.
Such was the shame attached to seeking support, that many in my circle never knew I’d needed to. It is exhausting, being stuck in poverty. I heard many talk about “dole-bludgers,” and it would sear my heart. I would have crawled over broken glass in order to secure a permanent job. I knew others in the same predicament who were willing to do anything to escape this wretched existence, too. Some should have been on a disability support payment, but the criteria was now ridiculous. Besides, they couldn’t afford the expense of seeing specialists to gather evidence. I didn’t have much to work with, when my world shattered. $20.76 a week after rent, doesn’t lend itself to dreams. It put me in a dangerous position, where I had to rely on someone not well enough to be dependable. A lot of people are left in this situation, and it is untenable.
I am now working, and know how fortunate I am. I was filled with terror at the thought of not finding work before the Jobseeker rate fell. I couldn’t bear the thought of being plunged into that level of poverty again. As a regular tax-payer, before Jobseeker and now, I am delighted to have my taxes pay for the rate to be permanently lifted. Nobody should have to endure poverty. Imagine not having the funds to buy medicines, nor fund a bus or train trip? Imagine not being able to afford to celebrate your child’s birthday? It is a lonely and miserable existence.
It is my fervent hope that 2020 brings with it a new awareness of each other, and that kindness shall prevail from hereon. I bumped into a well-dressed lady this past week, and she mentioned the community pantry. She spoke of her gratitude that she was able to grab food there. I have seen an elderly woman who lived through the Great Depression, scour the supermarket catalogue, circling what she intended to buy. Once the groceries were delivered, I watched her stand in front of her open fridge, gazing lovingly at the fresh produce. She was obsessed with food; the gathering of it, the preparation of it, and the feeding of loved ones. It was little wonder. She had lost siblings to starvation. When my fridge was filled, I too stood in front of the stainless steel door, looking in with wonder. What happened to me, can happen to anyone. It only takes a disaster or two to knock us about. Let’s concentrate on lifting each other up.
She came into this sphere in a cacophony of birdsong and Annie Lennox’s ‘Precious Little Angel.’ This numinous being filled with promise and life. She was in a hurry, even when a blastocyst in a square dish, nurtured by an embryologist who became a dear friend. She has brought people together, gathered up dreams and made them glorious reality. She has seen monsters and apparitions come to life, and then vanquished with her steely, focused gaze. When we have a girl’s night, we end up in fits of giggles, and her sense of humour drinks in the absurdities of life, and makes them something light.
2020 shall be the year when the lives of our youth were suspended within a holding pattern. For her, it has meant no public singing, no choir camps or meeting up with her choir family. It has meant no drama classes, and no Highschool musical. It has meant that much has been stopped, or at least postponed. Anyone who says that the young aren’t resilient, are wrong. They have seen our world fall, and they shall be the ones to rebuild. They have taken this year in their stride, alongside the worries, the fears and uncertainty. She said to me that she’d remember the time when society and school shut down as a simple time in an otherwise chaotic era. We played board games, and went on long walks, and ate popcorn and watched streaming shows. She wants space, where silence isn’t filled with noise and competing demands. Time, that is what she craves. She didn’t know what she was missing, until there was a bounteous amount.
As I wrote in her card on the eve of her 14th birthday, I couldn’t quite fathom where time has disappeared to, since the day she was born. A lion’s share was snatched up in parks and excursions and artistic pursuits. There were birthday parties and weddings, christenings and funerals. Time spent with her has been both limitless, and too fleeting. Always dramatic, I shall never forget your retort, when I said you needed to go to sleep. “You are messing with my electrical spirit!” you protested. You were five years old.
On your birthday, you once again craved simplicity. You went for a walk, chatted to loved ones, and comforted a friend who needed to hear your voice on the phone. By the time you came back out of your room, your birthday pizza was cold, but no matter. The warmth of your exquisite heart shone bright. Keep shining, sweetheart. Once a blastocyst, and now a meteor. Happy Birthday.
I looked set to die on this date, a lifetime ago. I was abducted, held overnight, strangled, then thrown off a building. I was fifteen years of age. Before this event, I’d been a typical teenager. I jogged around my neighbourhood, roller-skated, hung out at the shops with friends, and thought anyone over 25 was ancient. Then, my life changed. No more high school; I began learning by correspondence. A life that was expansive, contracted in. I lost touch with all my friends. My world started and ended in my room. My daughter is soon to be 14, the age that I was when it all began. The thought of anyone hurting her; my little girl…I will keep her from harm, that is the solemn oath I’d whispered when I first held her as a newborn. I still have sharp pieces of bone lodged in my spinal canal. It feels like I’m being perpetually knifed in the back. It alternatively enrages, saddens and fuels me to keep going. Today is a time for reflection and grieving. By the same token, it’s a time of celebration. I sat in my living room last night, and was overcome. Here I am, cosy inside my sanctuary. I cradled a hot cup of tea, my daughter and safety. That winter’s night, as I lay smattered in my own blood, this was what I was dreaming of. Now, it is mine. Everything I only dreamed of, pined for and craved, I now have.
Numerous surgeries, court cases, pain and healing have ensued. Here is what I’ve been left with, rather than what was taken.
- I know what it’s like to survive an event that looked set to kill me; that in itself is a gift.
- What is there to fear anymore, within this life?
- I am in agony every second of every day, and yet still I rise. It’s not always easy, and nor is it pretty, but it is worth it.
- I strive and I achieve. I would rather feel it; the ecstasy and the bleakness, than feel nothing at all.
- I don’t obsess over the minutae of life. What does any of it matter, in the big picture?
- The months I spent on a Stryker bed in a barren hospital room, made me crave colour. A fruit bowl brimming with citrus, or viewing the lavender and geraniums in my garden, fills my soul.
- There is no time for small talk. All interactions are met with a sense of urgency and a need to delve deeper.
- Nothing is taken for granted. I remember well, the months spent in body casts and the years in body braces. The glorious sensation of washing my hair and having that first shower, remains with me, and each morning I rejoice as I undertake this ritual. As for running a bath; it’s as decadent as it’d been after six months in a cast.
- Bird song remains as sweet as when I heard a solitary bellbird from my hospital bed.
- In this hour, I was being wheeled to the CT machine in the hospital. I recall tears streaming down my face, experiencing a sunrise I didn’t think I’d see. I still love dawn; the dappled light and promise of a new day.
- My daughter greeting me with a hug. ‘Good morning, Mama,’ she says. Once, she’d been a beautiful dream; an apparition I saw regularly in my slumber. I still can’t quite get over the fact she is earth-side now. I have the Petrie dish she grew in as an embryo. Miracles and other wonders are intertwined within even the darkest of times.
With nothing left to fear (the worst has been done, after all), and provided with the warmth, food, security, family, colour and freedom I’d craved on that lonely, bitter-cold night, I am content. I dared to dream within the 24 hours I was hostage. All that I dreamed of as a hungry, cold, isolated kid, has come to pass. Anything else that I’m gifted is a bonus.
‘Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose,’ Janis Joplin sang, and she was right.
Bruno is a little dog, and I instantly adored him, when we came across him in the park. We must have made a good impression, as we were invited to Bruno’s 1st Birthday celebrations. His mum had contacted the local council, and we were greeted by an extraordinary set-up.
The dogs all received a toy from the lucky dip basket, as well as a big ‘doggy bag‘ to take home. It was a morning of revelry, finishing with a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday, during which a plucky pooch clandestinely took off with Bruno’s birthday cake! In a year such as this, the question of whether to have a party for your pet or not is moot. Why wouldn’t you? The dogs had great fun, and we left with our cheek’s hurting from all the smiling. Any chance you have to snatch up some joy, take it, especially now.
I had an experience the other day, which shall stay with me always. I came across a lady (I would estimate in her 50’s), sitting by herself. As I stopped to smile, she complemented me on what I was wearing. “Look at you; so beautifully put-together. I wish I could do that.” I knew what she meant. I have been her, at various times in my life. She couldn’t smile, nor could her eyes contain the anguish within. She longed for the days when she could conceal what was now evident. We chatted and she told me she was depressed. Financially insecure, this was not what she’d thought her 50’s would be. “How do you keep going?” she asked, almost pleadingly. “Depression is a hard foe, and you have to be cunning. You know how it tells you nobody cares? You know how the first impulse is to isolate; to stay inside?” She nodded. “You have to do the opposite of what it’s demanding. Get out into the sunshine, and listen to the kookaburras. Admire the trees in the neighbourhood. Talk to someone, even if it’s a stranger, each and every day. Drink water, and don’t skip meals. Whatever your first impulse is, (I know from experience with anxiety, that it’s usually caffeine and solitude), do the exact opposite. What brought you outside today?” I asked. She sighed, “I needed to know that I wasn’t alone in this world. I needed all the things that you spoke about. I needed the trees and fresh air, a friendly face and birdsong.” “Promise me that you’ll do this each day?” I asked. “It’s a little thing, and won’t fix everything up; though I wish with all my heart that it could. It’s a start, though… A start in the right direction.” She nodded, and we looked in each other’s eyes. Hers were emblazoned with sapphires, and diamonds. Her shoulders straightened, and she looked different, stronger. Never underestimate the effect you can have on someone, even a stranger. Do the opposite of what you feel compelled to do when depressed or anxious. When anxious, I sit still and reflect, rather than race around, drinking caffeine and achieving nothing.
One of my best friends is in ICU on the other side of Sydney. Her daughter and mine are also the best of friends. We have been through IVF, pregnancy, motherhood and sickness together. We always finish our ludicrous chats with ‘love you.‘ She has been unwell for some time, but all the same, when you are dealing with a powerhouse of her stature, you believe them to be invincible. I am waiting to hear how her surgery went. She managed to text me from ICU last night, and I promised to take her to Haigh’s chocolate shop when she’s recovered. We went back and forth for a bit, before I signed off ‘love you.’ I feel impotent and powerless, as I wait. I then recalled what I’d suggested to the lovely stranger last week, which was to do the opposite of what I feel. Leaving home, I am going to walk to the river, stopping to hug trees. Then I shall listen for the kookaburras, surveying the paddocks and farms. I will await the phone call, whilst ensconced in beauty. My friend, with a keen eye for the humorous and glorious, would approve. Cockatoos screeching and swooping, kookaburras laughing and a lush verdant valley would amuse her. I imagine she is with me, as we both await the call, just like in our IVF days…
Some time ago, my friend and I went in search of groceries for the community pantry, and we finally decided to drive over the Razorback, and into Picton.
We called into the divine Hippy Luxe shop, and amongst Frida Kahlo cushions, crystals and art, we shared our individual experiences of 2020. Some things we’ll be glad to shed, whilst other things we’re keen to keep. Stopping and asking (really asking), how someone is, well, that is a trait we want to hold onto. Looking after people by simply asking if they need anything whilst we are at the shops… It’s all important. We are all a part of the ocean, and never has that point been driven home more, than now. By doing everything in our power to keep ourselves and our families well, we protect our community.
We ventured a bit further, and met a young lady. She was a former paramedic, who’d been injured and had to have spinal surgery. As a result, she couldn’t perform the job anymore. The job she’d based her identity on was gone, and she had to learn who she was without the title. I have determined to never ask anyone about their job… I would rather hear about their dreams, and what they want to happen once this period is over and done.
When we stopped for coffee, we came upon a lady in her 70’s, with fuchsia hair, a crown of fake flowers that cascaded down her back. Her eyelids were painted emerald; her look finished with blood-red lips. When I asked the staff about this extraordinary vision, I was told that a she was a beloved local, who dressed as an actual Christmas tree each December. She also decorated her car with tinsel and ornaments, to the delight of everyone. Much better to be a Christmas Tree than a Grinch, I say! I want to be like her when I grow up, dressed in a cacophony of colours, with a walk that is borderline swagger.
We stocked the community pantry, leaving boxes of tea, meal kits and little treats for kids inside the locker. As soon as it’s filled, it rapidly empties. Times are tough for so many people. The day finished with my taking my little pooch to the dog park. I met a woman who was sad about having to leave her cocoon, now that restrictions in NSW had lifted. She’d believed herself to be an extrovert, but now found that constantly interacting with people left her exhausted. People are grieving what has been lost in the pandemic. Social events, concerts, financial security and so much more. Sometimes, people can be bereft at the thought of leaving their home after a period of reprieve. It may be their safe place, a sanctuary where they are left in peace. It may be a reprieve from feeling socially awkward. Some may find they are more productive, working from home, than they were in their office.
We have a long way to go, but if we treat each other as though we’re all facing battles nobody knows of, we can’t go far wrong. Everybody is under pressure, no matter how they present in person or on social media. Go gently with yourselves, too.
Hasn’t this been a strange time? In some respects, it’s been a period of simplicity; of getting back to basics. Here are some of the highlights as we head toward winter.
- I’ve been walking for hours each day, and have uncovered some amazing laneways and paths, that I never knew existed. I have noticed homes, plants and people I would have distractedly raced past in my parallel world. Strangers have connected with one another in a way I’ve never experienced before. We look in each other’s eyes now and smile at one another.
- I home schooled my daughter for four years, when she was in Primary, and secretly relished having her home with me again from March. It was a strange feeling, to send her off to high school again. She missed her friends, and of course, we had technology fails, but it was a sublime time. I think young people need a reset at times too.
- Taking stock. I go many nights, without having talked to another adult. As any single parent will tell you, the evenings can be lonely; having nobody to chat to, laugh with, confide in. These past couple of months have allowed time to finally grieve, and to take stock. To reconcile our fragmented experiences, and find out about ourselves. Talking to friends, it’s a common experience. Relishing the slowing down, but feeling listless. Feeling unafraid of the future, and yet storing hidden terrors. Weird dreams and lethargy. Anxiety ramping up our energy, then rapidly dropping us down, brutally.
- Sadness, both our own and from those we love. Impossible decisions and quandaries. Families having to elect one person to visit a loved one in hospital, for the duration of their time there. Friends having to decide whether to hold onto businesses, or let go. People having to stretch out the items in their pantry to last a few more meals. Families falling apart…2020 has affected us in incalculable ways.
- There can be a bit of cognitive dissonance, seeing people crowd into shopping centres. In Sydney, we’ve had some magnificent sunny Autumn days, and just as we dodge the crimson and orange leaves raining down, we weave our way through crowded walkways when out walking. With restrictions easing, it’s easy to be lulled into a sense of assurance. It’s hard when you see some folk acting as if they’d never heard of Covid-19. I have my hand sanitiser on me at all times, a stock of face masks, and am being cautious, not only for myself, but my daughter, and for all we love. It’s horrifying to me, the thought that I could unwittingly pass it on. Nothing has hit me harder than seeing The New York Times cover, featuring the names and places of those felled by this cruel virus.
- I’ve been studying, and in keeping with the chaotic theme of this year, there was a wild variety of subjects to master. I’m looking forward to getting back into the workforce, and signed up to an excellent free course, Adapt 2020. I learnt so much, not only in regards to career advancement, and recruitment, but the course also covered psychology, and how important it is to have self-belief. I highly recommend Adapt 2020 for anyone seeking clarification and guidance with their career search. The next course is beginning on June 1st, and you can sign up here.
- Touring Frida Kahlo’s house was thrilling! Whilst the whole world’s been closed, funnily enough, it’s never felt so open. Touring Frida’s home shall stay with me all my days, and I love that I can revisit any time I wish. To visit with me, click here.
In this very strange time, may you find peace within your days. Whether that be uncovering magical lanes and vistas on your walk, visiting Frida’s home, having the privilege of having some learned career experts coach you, or listening to your favourite piece of music. Magic is still here, and best of all, it’s free.
We needed to go down the street to source a cardboard box for my daughter’s science assessment. By chance, we came upon the ladies from Home Quarters, putting boxing in the recycling bin out the back, and asked if we could have one. They asked us what size we needed, and dug deep to find it. Bless them, this gorgeous little business went out of their way to help us, just as they need help.
Our next stop was the supermarket, and we went in attired in our face masks and a liberal amount of hand sanitiser. It was surreal, to discover that toilet paper, hand sanitiser and liquid soap was back in stock. I just stared at the racks, my daughter eventually pulling me away. It were as though I was seeing a mirage in the desert.
We caught the bus down, as my daughter needed to activate her new Opal card (she lost her old one, so the balance was transferred). We still had on our face masks, and our bus driver asked if Coles had the essentials back in stock. I said that yes, they did, and that I was astonished to see it. We were the only ones on the bus, and as we rounded the corner, past Centrelink, we brushed a tear aside, as the driver gave voice to what we were feeling. “It’s heartbreaking, seeing all the people lined up, waiting to be helped.” If I had the money, I would have done what the cafe owner in Melbourne did, and distribute it throughout the line snaking around the block. On the next corner, we passed a church, where a funeral was about to take place. Young people in work gear had their heads bowed outside, all socially-isolated at 1.5 metres apart. Tears stung all of our eyes as we saw the gathering, knowing that only ten would be allowed inside to celebrate what was surely a remarkable life. We talked of hope, and of our fears. We were real with one another, and it was exquisite.
I wished the bus driver well, and told her that we were thinking of her. Her bus had become a holy place, where we prayed for strangers, talked of the strangeness of 2020, and heard my daughter say that she’d never experienced such a simplified time in her life. She said she will always remember this period as a time of making do, long walks, board games, connecting and getting back to what matters. She is right.
What a whirlwind this week has been! You can actually be busier than ever, stuck at home. Projects that were lying dormant, have been completed.
I had a dream about starting a community pantry, and by chance, the next day, my lovely friend, Lisa, mentioned that she wanted to as well! We put the call out for a suitable pantry-holder, and a friend dropped in a locker. Not only was it weatherproof, but cool enough for us to put some Easter eggs inside! Lisa printed and laminated signs for the outside, and we managed to fill it. We decided to put it at the back of the bus stop, outside our local park. Within a day, things were taken, and it filled my heart when I saw a teenager and his little sister shyly approach the locker. “Are you sure it’s okay to take stuff?” the little girl asked. They took a few items, and closed the door, and I saw them walk to a house near the park. As items are taken, more appear. If it provides a meal for a family, or saves people from having to go to the supermarket for one or two items, we are pleased. We sanitise it at least once a day. Times are tough for so many people. Many have never needed to rely on Centrelink, nor charities before, and it takes time to wrap your head around it. One of the bravest things one can do, is ask for help. Everything is cyclical; you are the giver in one instance, and you must accept help in turn.
There was a rap at my door last weekend, and I was surprised, as nobody comes to visit at the moment! Standing on my porch, was my friend, Donna. She runs Butterflies Florist, and was holding a bouquet of flowers. It reminded me of how birds call out to each other when they can’t be seen. They are letting each other know that they are okay. At dawn, they call out to assure their compatriots that they made it through the night. This felt like a call from friends I hadn’t been able to see since this began.
Another dear friend (knowing my love of hummingbirds), dropped off a piece of art at my front door.
Yesterday was Anzac Day, and for the first time, we weren’t able to attend a communal dawn service, and see friends afterward. I felt for all the veterans and their families, for whom the day was usually set aside to connect with each other. They must feel bereft. My daughter and I held a dawn service in our driveway, and it was haunting; the Last Post playing from my television, as we stood in silence. Daybreak was smeared with honey and saffron hues, and kookaburras started laughing. A friend mentioned that she was going to her volunteer shift at Lifeline, anticipating a busy evening. Calls have escalated since all this began, which is no great suprise. As I walked around the neighbourhood, I saw wreaths woven from rosemary, tied together with red ribbons; poppies decorating front yards. One lady had a basket of rosemary out, asking passers-by to take a sprig for remembrance.
I am apprehensive about the gradual return to school, and as it turns out, so are quite a few teachers and principals. The following was a post from a friend of mine at the coalface, posted with her permission:
On a positive note, I have trained my little dog to fetch the paper and pamphlets. She hasn’t quite grasped letting it go though, demanding that I chase her! On every walk, I find that I am noticing beauty as never before. It’s as though with the absence of distractions, we’re able to appreciate beauty more readily. I hope that this remains when we come out of hibernation.
How are you going?
Drop me a line to let me know. This is a community, and honestly, I have never felt as close to folks as now. Stripped of all extraneous detritus, we can be real, and we are.
There have been so many commenting on this phenomenon, and all are relieved to know they aren’t the only ones. Even when you have work and study to occupy your time, trying to focus is challenging. Even when you have managed a solid sleep, you are still exhausted. Your mind is trying to cope with an altered reality. All of this is normal, under the circumstances.
Losing the plot over your internet connection and/or websites or pages that won’t load
I lost it the other night, and it wasn’t pretty! Not being able to get onto an online lesson before it started, had me enraged. Of course, it wasn’t really about the above. Rather, it was deeper. There was rage at the people still having parties and not keeping a distance from others. Acting like the virus was not only not in their consciousness, but within society. Whilst some of us are into our third week (or more), of self-isolating, these individuals carry on as though they don’t have a care in the world. I am enraged by them. I am angered that our frontline workers have been abused, and that they have cause to worry about obtaining adequate PPE.
Those periods where you are frozen to your seat, refreshing your phone for no reason in particular? Those times when you can’t collect your thoughts, and you pace the length of your house, unable to recollect why you needed to go to a particular room? It has to do with anxiety. It comes out in funny ways. I felt all this after a trip to the chemist and supermarket. Masked up, whenever anybody dared come near with their trolley, my senses would heighten. Going through self-serve felt like a dangerous exercise. If only the virus was tinted a certain hue (like cornflour in a colour run), so you could see where the little bastard was hiding out!
Sadness for friends who were going through trauma before Covid-19. Separation, divorce, ill-health, financial trouble… Certainly, the virus has introduced a perfect storm into their lives. Now they have to bunker down with those who’ve hurt them. They aren’t able to work in their chosen field, and going to hospital for treatment just got a whole lot more stressful. I feel sad for those who live alone, and are isolated. I feel sadness for those who have lost their jobs. I feel sad for those that can’t attend funerals, birthday celebrations, weddings and other occasions. I feel sad that we can’t hug. There is a whole lot to feel sad about.
On the other side of the equation, there is gratitude
Our complicated lives have been stripped back to basics. We are living frugally, and spending more time than ever within our homes. We are connecting with friends we haven’t seen for some time. There have been mates who’ve invited me to Zoom meetings, that I hadn’t seen in years. We have checked out each other’s houses and isolation hair. We have toasted each other, and shared recipes. There have been messages flowing, and even groceries delivered to my door. I have never felt more thankful.
Friendly the cockatiel and Minnie the Pomchi, have kept us entertained and our spirits up. Friendly sings the Adam’s Family Theme Song, whilst dancing. Minnie enjoys playing ball and wading in her little pool outside. We go for walks with our puppy each day, something which brings us joy. She is as stubborn as a mule, when she doesn’t want to move, though thankfully she is little enough to tuck under an arm. Her favourite treat is a cold carrot from the fridge.
Gardens and sunshine
The virus feels so distant, when sitting out the back, surveying the geraniums and herbs in our garden with the sun bearing down on our shoulders. Autumn in Sydney is pretty magical, even at a time like this.
Have you ever noticed that in times of trouble, the people in the arts always donate of their time and energy? Can you imagine what this period would be like, without music, paintings, shows, movies and online content? What about books and dancing? When this is over with, let’s support those who helped get us through.
This is Week 3, done. A trip to the shops, leading to wondering where this bastard virus is hanging out, and with whom. Laughter shared by strangers at the ludicrous nature of our current existence. Helping someone find a particular item, whilst keeping the hell away from them. Holding one’s breath as a precaution when somebody miles away sneezes. Suffering the indignity of my daughter winning seven games in a row of Guess Who? Signing up for three different courses in one frenzied morning. Looking at the brown bananas, and declaring that I really should do some baking with them, before forgetting (then saying it again the next morning). Sorting out the pantry, and making use of the Tupperware (finally). Decluttering, and then being left with bags of stuff with nowhere to go, as charity shops and council throw-outs aren’t collecting for the time being. Hoping to heaven that I don’t have to rely on any call centre to fix an issue, as most are closed. Laughing hysterically at the most pedestrian of things online.
May you have a restful Easter, no matter where you are. May you have peace, and may we never endure a time such as this ever again.
The days seem to blend into one another; time and dates have blurred edges. It is becoming harder to recall our lives before everything changed. All the things we took for granted! Meeting up with friends… Restaurants… cafes and hugs, travel and visits from loved ones. Classes are grieved, as are extracurricular activities. Who would have thought toilet paper, masks, sanitiser and disinfectant would be such hot items?
I attended my first online funeral earlier this week. It added to the sorrow of the life lost, seeing eight people gathered in the large chapel, the chairs spaced so that even a husband and wife weren’t actually sitting together. There were no hugs, and no huddling together. A person who had hundreds of friends and family scattered throughout Australia was sent off by eight people, and those of us who watched online. It felt strange; disconnected from reality. It’s our new normal, I’m afraid.
The next evening, a group of us were invited to sing Happy Birthday to a four year old on Zoom, as she cut her birthday cake. As I saw the squares light up with familiar faces, my heart swelled. We have to be distant, but we certainly aren’t alone. It was joyous, getting together from the confines of our home for a little girl.
I had to go up the street to have my flu shot. After two weeks of confinement, it really hit me, seeing the places I usually frequent, shuttered and empty. I thought of my friends, who work in these places (or own them), and the sole traders who supply these shops. It was a melancholy feeling; how could it be anything but? It’s all the little things that you miss. I miss the chatter amongst patients as they sit next to one another, whilst waiting for the doctor. I miss the smiles of the staff, now hidden behind masks. I miss catching up with the friends you bump into down the street. The few people I saw were guarded, hurrying about their business, so that they could get back home.
This update from Bill Crews just about broke my heart. The most vulnerable sector of our society, made to eat their meals out in the rain. Surely we can do better, Sydney? This tumultuous period reinforces the absolute truth that we are connected. What happens to one, can ultimately, happen to all. Unemployment and homelessness, poverty and being at the mercy of this wretched virus. Why can’t we put up the vulnerable in accomodation, now that the city is devoid of tourists? Now is the time to soften hearts, rather than harden them.
I am thankful for the wonderful souls who have delivered food and groceries to our door. I almost cried, when I saw that the service I used was able to purchase toilet paper for me. It’s the little things that mean so much! I am thankful for the concordant birdsong outside my window, and the sun filtering through the myriad of trees outside my door. I am thankful for teachers who are doing double-duty, organising online lessons, whilst also teaching in a classroom. I am grateful for those who check up on each other, ensuring that everyone has what they need.
There have been involuntary tears, and moments when I feel helpless. Not being able to see loved ones is tough, particularly when they are going through so much, for a myriad of reasons. I worry about those in quarantine with toxic family members. Not being able to escape into their job, or through a social outing, is excruciating, when trapped inside a chaotic household. Life has contracted in. We need to uncover small joys, where we can. Whether that be going for a walk, or by having coffee on the porch. It may mean listening to music, or watching a comedy. Our movements may have been limited, but free pleasures remain. Your thoughts belong to you, and can’t be contained within the four walls of your home. They can see you making plans for when this time is done, and help you to clarify the future you yearn to build.
I keep thinking of what it must have been like to go through the era of the Spanish flu or Bubonic Plague. Without phones, internet, television, running water, sanitation and Netflix! No updates forthcoming, and with limited resources. I can’t even imagine how cut-off each household must have felt from one another.
We are in the early stages of self-isolation, and still have Winter to come. Winter; the season which ushers in frosts and bitter cold, grey skies and barren trees and gardens. It seems to drag, and then one day, Spring arrives. We can get through this harsh winter, if we work together. All this shall seem like a distant nightmare; one we shall recall for the young, in fifty years’ time. They will ask us what it was like, and what we did. Let’s ensure we have ripping yarns to share with them. Tales of how we looked after each other, connecting online, and sending messages to old friends. Tales of getting back to basics, and making do with what we had at our disposal. Stories of mateship and making the best of a bad situation. We are making history, each and every day of 2020.