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November 1, 2021

We are Slowly & Hesitantly Emerging from Lockdown in Melbourne.

This Friday morning here in Melbourne, Australia looked the same like the previous week.

A faint warmth of seasons changing. Cars starting and spluttering down my street. Hauling myself out of bed and feeling as if my head weighed more than the rest of me, except there was a difference—our COVID-19 lockdown had ended.

After 245 days, we were free. Well, aside from a remaining handful of restrictions. A couple of weeks ago, a few of us had celebrated our days in lockdown overtaking Buenos Aires (take that Argentina), raising our glasses in a mock toast to living in the city that recorded the longest lockdown in the world. Along the way, we experienced the best and worst of ourselves. There was compassion with community pantries offering free food created in suburbs. Families needing assistance could collect food and essential items, no questions asked. Volunteers banded together, creating and distributing endless hot meals for those in need. The compassion was so great that we had to ask where was it before. Where had we hidden that depth of kindness?

Many people lost jobs. Questions of paying rent, mortgages, and covering everyday costs added to the stress. I’d been rudderless in my career for months, turning the key in my office door on arrival sapped energy. I had no career goals, ambition, or sense of purpose. Losing my job provided a renewal of direction and a chance to do something new. In lockdown, many of us planted vegetable patches, a lack of experience and technique often resulted in providing more food to snails than ourselves. Plenty of people baked, finding new skills, or musing over why the banana loaf sank in the middle. During our enforced stay at home, we attempted a new language, playing piano, reading more, or finally clearing out the gutters around the house. Many brought a dog into their lives. My rescue greyhound now shadows me around the house, waiting for me to stroke the rounded bones of his body.

Lockdown here in Melbourne was difficult. Family violence increased. We experienced disturbing clashes between protestors and police on a scale possibly not seen since the resistance to the Vietnam War. We watched astonished from our couches as rubber bullets were fired and capsicum spray was directed into crowds. Whilst some protestors expressed opposition to vaccinations, many marched against being told they had to be vaccinated or had to conform to rules they likened to martial law. We were becoming divided.

A curfew was implemented, meaning no one could be out driving after 9 p.m. without a reason. We couldn’t travel beyond five kilometres. Masks needed to be worn outside the home unless exercising. Visitors to houses became disallowed with few exceptions. Borders between states closed, taking us back to Australia being a set of British colonies with permits necessary to travel interstate. Cafes and restaurants closed, and sport events could only be viewed on television. Police or army personnel visited houses to ensure those required to quarantine stayed at home. It was as if inhaling even caused anxiety.

Now many of our restrictions are lifted. Even with most freedoms back, plenty of us are jaded. We feel lethargic, tentative about venturing out, and possibly exposing ourselves to Covid. I’ve forgotten communication; most of the conversations I’ve been part of were one way, late at night and playing out on Netflix. But we homeschooled our children. We gathered family into our arms, allowed ourselves to be vulnerable to others. We dressed, a new fashion of can’t be bothered—had less showers, less shaves, less makeup, wore shoes less often, and drank more alcohol. We sometimes kept working when we shouldn’t have, loved and argued fiercely, worried about finances and worried more about our children. Our anxieties about climate change grew and we fretted over whether the pandemic would ever end. And we were busy. Busy being human.

I imagined myself three years ago, putting 20 dollars on the table to hear my future predicted. Perhaps someone would have gazed into the cloudy depths of a crystal ball. They may have taken my hand into theirs, mysteriously tracing the lifelines of my palms, or I might have listened to the muffled shuffling of cards, invited to choose one before waiting for a flicker of expression on the tarot card reader’s face hinting whether my future was bright or grim. If anyone told me about the pandemic, I wouldn’t have believed them, I would’ve thought it’d make a great science fiction manuscript.

But for now, we wait. Wait for the streets to fill with our voices, to pass café doorways with the swirl of coffee aromas. We wait on the return of film festivals, to sit in a crowd and marvel again at a sports feat. We wait to feel gently warmed by hope.

We’ve learned a lot about waiting.

~

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