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  • Writer's pictureCrone

Mastering virus-world

One of my friends says that he found himself thinking, 'We'll all be stuck in our homes in a fortnight.' And a fortnight later, when that was the case, he thought, 'Why didn't I just start staying inside a fortnight ago when I knew this would be the case?' He says this has happened every week during the course of the pandemic, that he's been two weeks ahead with the realisation, but only acted when the decision's taken. 'I've been completely aware of what will happen in the future, but even though I knew, I didn't do anything about it early. Why didn't I just act at once?' He's not upset about it, just curious about his own mental processes.

Me, I knew football wouldn't last until late March, and it was called off on the 13th. So I shouldn't have been surprised. In fact, I wasn't surprised as such. It's more that before it was cancelled I was 'a person fearing football was about to be cancelled' and afterwards I was a new person. Back to L. A. Paul's transformative experiences. That person saw the end of football as the empty horizon where the river goes over the falls. But once the horizon opened, lo! the river continues. Different views, but no crash and splash 1000 feet down.

I have been 'a person fearing I wouldn't cope in lockdown on my own'. Now I'm a person perfectly content with my life - though not with 'the life that is happening outside.' There seem to be more ambulances these last few days. They scream past: first the warning bleep-blast and then the squeal and blare of the sirens with the lights radiating emergency. I think of fear and pain and death. I think of long-term health impact. I think of the tired, scared medical staff, not all with training adequate to the demand. I think of those with no work and no hope of work. The desperate red lines in their budgets and the rent due. Those with no home and no food. Let alone masks, hand sanitisers and loo roll. The future, restricted, threatening, impoverished - ever after there is a vaccine. Meanwhile, I am 'quite content in my bubble.'

I guess it must be the same in wartime. You live on until it strikes close. You are normal until you're not. The world writ large is in crisis - and will be for at least another year, probably two, but nothing is harming me right now bar thoughts, bar knowledge, bar fears. Nothing else. My reality is pretty good; my internal world could be awful - but what good would that do anyone? Should I be unhappy in order to show solidarity? A strange concept. The Buddhist idea of loving-kindness is an outpouring of love and a desire for the other to be well, without feelings of grief in the person sending the well-wishes. If it's good enough for the Dalai Lama... But, what can I do? What can I control, apart from obeying restrictions and keeping myself safe?

So I have learned to wish the world well without (as much as possible) internalising suffering. Not so hard for me given I'm not an especially nurturing type.

I have also learned to carry a stick - see the photo. This was a lesson from a hunter gathering Viking. A strange and magical half hour on the golf course. I was walking, socially distanced, with the entomologist, whom I thought was a Twitcher, and who, it turns out, is called Tim. We were walking and talking when a young man ran past with a stick. I called out, 'Is that for self-defense?' 'No,' he said, 'for gates.' I said he looked like a Viking and he responded, 'How did you know? I am half-Danish!' He'd stopped running and he joined the conversation, turning line into triangle. The Viking had been learning which wild plants are edible, and told us about the cow parsley and the nettles, the pines and their elongated blossoms. Tim sees nature as the domain where beetles are; the Viking sees it as a menu. Me, maybe as a museum or an art gallery. And then a woman, Emily, joined us. We formed a square, 12ft by 12ft, and had a socially distanced yet sociably connected conversation.

Emily, exuberant, intelligent, incredibly young looking, was a headteacher and now runs her own business online. An education resource. Her passion, she said. It turns out we went to the same university. We both studied English. Tim is self-employed and works in museums. Beetles fascinate him: his love for them is enchanting and contagious. His knowledge about the seemingly miraculous behaviours of various species, with an intelligence so distant from human consciousness and yet so evolutionarily wonderful and successful, brings joy to his face and voice. Radulf was working in hospitality but had an interview that afternoon for a job in bushcraft. He was full of the enthusiasm and idealism of youth, fueled by discovery, inspired by the confidence and conviction of new learning. Me? I am a football journalist who wants to be a philosopher. My passion is off my earning grid.

We all had cross-currents of connection and interest, curiosity and wisdom. It was a world in microcosm: behind so many differences - well, age and gender at least - so many alliances. We are not islands. Penninsulas, perhaps, but more like inland regions, bounded on all sides by shared interests and values. Held together far more by what we share than we can ever be separated by any claims to uniqueness.

This afternoon, hot and bright, the shade of the cherry and lilac tree a blessing, I took two chairs into the garden, rested a pole in between the slats of the chair backs and used it as a makeshift bar to do upper body exercises. A trick I learned on the internet. A few weeks ago, a YouTube video guided me through cutting my own hair. It looks pretty good, actually. Usually, I drive around 3,000 miles a month. I've done 80. To and from the fields for runs; to and from the farm shop.

As I set resting between sets, a female blackbird collected a twig from where I had failed to rake up my cuttings, and, having given me a cursory glance, flew with it into the ivily-overgrown trellis behind the wild rose bush. In there, her nest; soon, her brood. Earlier, I saw a muntjac doe by the railway line. She bounded, somewhat lazily, into the bushes at my appearance. The dog, quiet at the end of a run on a warm morning, was not unduly interested. I called out, 'Hello, deer!' or 'Hello, dear!' I'm not sure which. Jane Doe, but not deceased.

I consider the animals not killed by cars. And yet the cars seem to be more common now. The lockdown not yet eased, as a write, but people have been anticipating. 'In two week's time, it'll be back to normal,' they think, and unlike my friend, they act on the whim.

Back to normal? What is this normal we crave? Sundays in the shopping centres and evenings at the pub? That was never my life. All that's changed for me, really, is the absence of work and the loss of my trips to theatre and fancy restaurant. It hasn't been a burden. The Zoom and the Skype and the FaceTime talks with friends and with online groups have made my social life, if anything, better. People have time to talk. Time, more importantly, to listen. In our homes we see that we are not islands. We need the contact as much as the supply chains. And always, the communion of ideas through books and videos and podcasts. My world has become richer. The weft and weave that matters to me has gained colour and craft. My mind's been freed by this, despite the much-touted restrictions to freedom.

There is danger and there is threat. There is fear and the future looks harsh, uncertain and possibly bleak. And yet, hold on, try to hold on, to the hope, the connection, the loving-kindness.

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