It has been 21 days since Leo Vradkar first appeared on TV and announced school closures and other cautionary measures around tackling the Corona Virus. I had been watching Boris earlier, so when Leo came on, I was very proud and relieved to be an Irish citizen. He brought tears to my eyes. The only other person who has been able to do that was Stephen Spielberg with ET back in the 1980s when I found myself weeping uncontrollably in the cinema, while laughing manically at this manipulation of my tear ducts. It was a similar experience on my living room sofa on the 27 March. Fortunately, because I already lived in social isolation, no one saw.
Social isolation has its benefits…as maybe people are beginning to recognise. There are more people exercising, smiling and waving while also keeping their distance. There is a great feeling of camaraderie. The community is sharing food, making deliveries to those who need it. No longer is it shameful to feel lonely, for everyone is feeling lonely or frightened. There are new forms of engagement. I am doing quizzes on-line with family. I am in contact with friends who before I would speak to only occasionally. Social distancing in supermarkets means a much more enjoyable shopping experience where one has time and space to ponder and choose.
My days haven’t changed dramatically due to Covid 19 because as a writer/poet, and retired person living in Cavan, they don’t really involve other people. I wake up, write or edit what I’m working on, get up, take the dog for a walk, listen to podcasts, have lunch while listening to the radio, read a book, listen to more radio, clean, shop, cook, watch TV and back to bed. After a few weeks of this routine, I do get what I term ‘Cavan Fever’. However, I am usually able to offset that with a visit to Limerick or Dublin, or a book launch or some poetry festival somewhere. Obviously, the Corona Virus has stopped that travel. So, after twenty one days of ever increasing restrictions and walking around in ever decreasing circles, it feels as if my eyes are beginning to dart side to side, my hair is standing up on end, and my skin is feeling prickly. These are the physical symptoms I feel.
But, I wonder at this physical reaction because the quality of my day to day life is good. Since Leo made his first announcement, I have given myself ‘permissions’ which for some reason I didn’t before. I decided to learn piano, to improve my mind by studying The Guardian Crosswork (Simple and Cryptic), to do puzzles, to paint, to allow myself cake and chocolate. I feel guilty saying it while all around me the world collapses, but my life is good. The restrictions on movement make me feel twitchy, but when hundreds of thousands of people are dying across the world, twitchy is grand. Okay, when I watch the news, I feel sick. The emergency hospitals going up in Central Park in New York, in London exhibition centres, in grand Piazzas in Italy and Spain are horrifying to see, but by the same token, it is wonderful to see people come together, work and respond as one – as a society. Why does it take such calamity for us to improve our lives, both as a society and as individuals?
There is so much discussion about Covid 19 – is it earth’s natural solution to the tyranny of mankind. I don’t want to add to that, but for me there is an uncomfortable question inherent in the unfolding Corona virus scenario that we need to consider. In the future, how do we make our society reflect the values around human rights that Covid 19 has shown us all to hold?
I am lucky. I don’t know anyone who is ill. The Irish lock down has presumably stemmed the spread of infection and the subsequent number of deaths. What I’d like to know is how we hold on to the benefits that the virus has shown us are possible without requiring the threat of death? Hopefully, the future Irish Government will reflect on this!