Updated: Aug 25
During the lockdown, even ageing was suspended. Everything stopped. No visits to doctors, dentists. No worries that my pains were heart related or that night terrors were symptoms of mental imbalance. We were swaddled in paused time. And now it’s over, I feel less safe, sadder, older and not much wiser.
I’m grieving the world I lost – tube rides all over London; careless changing at Kings Cross; sitting in Brick and Olive Cafe for hours, surrounded by the unemployed and the old; hopping on the bus to Ally Pally, thinking of nothing but walking in the park; meeting up for tea and sharing a single cake; getting away for the week to Scotland; planning a trip to California to see longtime friends and meet a new baby. Opening the front door and not backing up five metres. Walking the streets without moving onto the road as someone approaches. Joking with the greengrocer and letting our breath go where it will.
In fact, some of this has resumed. But the old ease is gone, replaced by a wariness of the stranger in the cafe, the cyclist on the path, the laughter of the server without a mask. I go about the world, but it’s smaller now. Everything feels like it might be tainted by the Covid germ. Recently I went with friends to the Tate Museum. We wore masks in an under-peopled gallery. We observed signs cautioning us not to stand too close. Our coffee in the cafe was subdued, the masks around our necks tattered amulets. This is our new normal, and I shall no doubt get used to it. But it’s a slow taking-in.
The first week after lockdown, I was thrown off-base, not sure where to go and what to do. The government threw open many doors. But who in their right mind trusts today’s feckless, corrupt governments? We’re in a time when everything is broken, fragmented into unrecognizable pieces.
It will be many years before another period of stability. And that stability will not look like it did before the pandemic. That prelapsarian time held some cohesion. I could count on dying in my bed of some familiar disease, say of the heart. That may still be the case. But a microscopic thing may invade me, taking my breath in a way I never expected. It maddens me that even my fantasies of how I’d depart this planet are called into question now. Is nothing certain?
Of course nothing is certain. Never was. Everything shifts, moving toward final dissolution. I’m not optimistic by temperament, and certainly am not going to start trying for a calm acceptance now. No, I’m one of those ‘do not go gentle into that good night’ people. I have a finely honed sense of outrage, based partly on an arrogance about my own intelligence. Like others who share my stew of characteristics, the struggle is to channel this energy into something useful. That battle goes on. At the moment, the bad guys are winning. I’m irritable, negative, pissed off.
Perhaps this is, after all, a good time to be old. Perhaps I’ll avoid experiencing the full-blown horrors of climate catastrophe. Possibly the social justice protests this time will make fundamental changes. I push myself to find the positive, and I often do. The other side of my arrogance is a belief in my efficacy in making a difference with others. It’s of some comfort.
But the vial of bitterness is never far away, the rage at life’s unfairness. I try not to lift it to my lips, but sometimes it insists I drink. And then I have to remember: there are still conversations to have, sentences to write, children to nurture. And sometimes, there will be the sense that this life is not just full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Rose Levinson, August 2020