Expectations, great and ordinary.

Where have these past two years gone? We have completed two whole journeys around the sun. The same sun which has risen on 730 mornings and set again in the evening since 13 March 2020. The very day when I closed the door on the outside world.

The sun rises a little earlier each day as spring equinox approaches.

As the sun sinks this evening, I reflect on this day two years ago. I was on my way home from work, with my laptop and some hastily grabbed papers as I was expecting to be working from home for the following couple of weeks with Covid closing in on us. It was just over a week before the spring equinox, the sky was a translucent blue in the fading daylight as I made my way from the bus stop to my front door. 

Heading home on 13 March 2020

I was not long home before my phone rang. I remember that family conversation so clearly, the deep fear of the virus which was already tightening its grip around us meaning that I began my isolation a few days before the authorities formally closed our doors. That is not new, I have reflected on this before. 

As I wrote in April 2020 – “I arrived home from work … having agreed that afternoon that I would work from home from then on to reduce risk while travelling to work on busy buses. I picked up a couple of items from the shop on my way home. Excellent stocking up – a jar of red pesto, a small packet of macaroni and some miso soups. I had no idea when I shut the front door, that I would not be leaving again for the foreseeable future. Family conversations that evening were frank and sobering. We talked through the risks that I faced. Age and underlying health conditions meant that I would not fare well if I contracted COVID-19. Additionally, as the pandemic took hold, the health service would be placed under extreme pressure to accommodate very ill patients. We realised at that point that I should immediately self isolate. And so, on Friday 13 March, I closed my doors to the outside world... Life has been transferred predominantly online. I have FaceTime, Zoom and Skype chats in the evening with friends, sometimes in small groups. Our Book Club and Writing Group now meet online. But even though life is continuing, it has been changed irrevocably. We don’t know when it will settle and resume and in particular, we don’t know what the new world will look like when it does settle.

There was such uncertainty ahead. But on reflection I realise that did have some expectations. We had expectations that if we did catch Covid, then we would have some immunity in those very early days. There was a great deal of talk about vaccines taking time, but we had unquestionable confidence that we would see a vaccine at some point and that it would be the solution. I held the expectation that catching Covid would be almost certainly dire with my underlying and chronic health conditions. Another expectation was that as case numbers rose, they would surely fall as the peak of infections passed. However, the current case numbers are very high considering over two years have passed of the pandemic.

So it is strange to look back over the past two years which have both flown and dragged by, and look at how those expectations have measured up. Some have been surpassed, and some have surprised us. The vaccine has been a massive game changer, for those have access to them. While the global situation is one which is urgent and overlooked by too many, I am in that fortunate position to have had both doses, plus the booster. But aside that is the question of immunity. Not being an expert in this area, I have been shaken by the evolving realisation that immunity fades after infection, and also after the vaccines. Now we understand that the benefit of the vaccine is far more on reducing the severity of disease rather than transmission. Also, in those very early days, the variants had not appeared on our radars. Our expectations of new variants and mutations of the virus, with the unknown of how severe and transmissible these would be had yet to form.

Many of these expectations, I had not really acknowledged but they nestled in my mind. It is only when I pause at a milestone such as today, that I realise that I held so many.

When I wake tomorrow morning, on the first day of a third year since I closed my door, I will focus my expectations on the sunrises and sunsets and the spring growth in front of my eyes.

Slightly Ajar

A year ago today, on 13 March, my world shifted abruptly. I arrived home from work and after emotional phone calls with close ones it was clear that I should close my door on the outside world. For many weeks I spoke with people almost exclusively on a screen with occasional conversations with real people through a closed window as they shivered outside after dropping off essentials on my doorstep. Often without being asked.

Today marks a full year now of living in this limbo of self isolation. Even when the situation was much improved in the summer, I remained very cautious and during the year have only been twice inside a café and once inside a carefully spaced restaurant. Thank goodness for those warm, light days and friendly visitors who were not offended that they were not allowed over the threshold except for a hasty visit to the bathroom accompanied by disinfectant wipes.

Then on 23 February I received my blue envelope. My Blue Letter Day. My blue envelope contained that distinctive sign of promise and hope – my first COVID-19 Vaccine appointment. It is hard to describe the emotion when that envelope appears on the doormat, to the postie’s footsteps retreating down the path. An involuntary sob, ripping open the envelope and relief that the appointment is only a week away and at a centre within walking distance. Slight concern that there is a diary clash but not impossible to work around with the cooperation of others. And then it is in the diary. A week of low level anxiety at tales of cancelled appointments due to supply delays and then finally the day of the vaccine itself. Wednesday 3 March. A very smooth and personal process and in no time I am on the other side of a very significant point in the year’s milestones. I have had my first dose of vaccine and am leaving the building breathing already slightly easier, tears rolling down my face. And the promise of the second dose within 12 weeks. I step out into the world through the exit only for those who have been vaccinated, already changed from the person who entered the building.

This is the most significant step for me and many others in moving forward. And while I am incredibly thankful, I know that I am among the very fortunate and wish nothing less for everyone else across the world.

And my gratitude and privilege brings with it internal conflict. I question that sense of entitlement that I realise I have quietly developed over the decades. There is so much I have become used to, and feel some form of entitlement to. Travel, holidays and short breaks, the ability to meet up with friends a bus or train journey away, being able simply to sit in a café, drinking tea and taking in the surroundings. This has been a year of contemplation and acceptance of very changed expectations. And a sad frustration at how COVID-19 has further deepened gaping inequities.  

We have indeed come far over the year, but we continue to live under considerable restriction. We have been under continued lockdown since the end of the year. And although the statistics of people newly diagnosed are vastly reduced from the dark winter wave of the virus, we still have far to go. It will be some time before many of the daily activities we once took for granted will again be possible. It will be some time before I can come cautiously out of self isolation and I realise that I will always be on guard and ready to close my door again.

A full year on, yet my door is still not open and I am still self isolating. However, that door is no longer bolted shut and the windows tightly closed. As we approach the vernal equinox and the day that the clocks move forward to summer time, my door is now slightly ajar. Gradually I will be to open it further and gently step back into the world and feel the breeze on my face. Not the same world, and not the same me. But through the door nonetheless.

Corona Times – learning a new language

Learn a new language while you are in lockdown, they said. Or how to play an instrument. Make the most of this gift of time. Learn some new skill. Bake sourdough or become a yogi. Read those books lying covered with dust on your shelves. Zoom your friends and family. Yes Zoom is a thing, and the world now functions on this new thing. Stay up till midnight for three nights running to try to secure a Tesco delivery slot. Weep each time you fail.

It seems I have been learning a new language. Some words I had not heard of ,or expressions made up from a string of known words forming to create a new expressions which have suddenly taken a very clear and specific meaning. Not a foreign language, the words are already familiar. The meaning, however, is not. This is the language of Corona, incomprehensible before spring 2020. Now it is the basis of most of our conversations.

covid wordcloud

I imagine parallel conversations pre and during the corona weeks. Pre Corona, I imagine to be something like this …

Pre Corona – Have you been furloughed?

Pre corona response – blank stare. Is this an agricultural expression? Do I look as if I have been furloughed? Am I covered in mud?

 

Pre Corona – Our aim is to flatten the curve.

Response – blank stare. What curve? Is there a bump in the road?

 

Pre Corona – Are you shielding?

Response – guilty expression. How do they know I am hiding an escaped bank robber under the stairs?

 

Pre Corona – You need to self isolate.

Response – confused expression. What have I done wrong? What on earth do you mean by that? Isolate myself?

 

Pre Corona – social distancing must be observed.

Response – utter bewilderment. How can distancing be social? Is it not anti-social? Have I said something offensive? What does it even mean?

 

It is fascinating that society morphs rapidly to adapt to the threat which the pandemic has thrown on to many of us. We have quickly become used to a life which finds us speaking to people on screens rather in person and where our homes become places where we cannot even invite a close friend in for tea. While it is strange, we have become oddly accustomed to very different conventions even if they don’t quite sit comfortably. The rapid shift in language is another sign of resilience and adaptation of humankind as our expressions and vocabulary are shaped for the current context. A context which is new, sudden and which turns many longstanding conventions on their heads. It is an example of how we adapt to cope with a new, urgent situation.

Only a few short weeks into Corona times, we no longer blink when informed that certain activities will be permitted as long as we maintain social distance. We don’t need to ask what that means, it is solidly in our mindset. Social distance – 2 metres, the size of a double bed, or two shopping trolleys end to end, or an adult kangaroo. We are thankful that the furlough scheme is extended and understand its importance in protecting employees and the economy while we fear the eventual cost to society. We no longer think of muddy fields.

I do wonder how our vocabulary and language will be changed by this sudden influx of new vocabulary and very specific expressions and usage. Language does evolve and develop naturally, as we see when we hear the announcement of the ‘new words’ of the year which are added to the dictionaries. I will be fascinated to see how this turn of events will be reflected in new turns of phrase in the longer term.

May flowers

In the meantime, don’t worry about learning a new skill. You have already learned a new language. Focus on staying safe and staying well. And remember to wash your hands.