It started with a gentle thump in the stomach. Reading news of events taking place in a country so far from here, it was impossible to comprehend the significance. A gentle thump. What was happening was awful, so sad. What was happening was scary. What was happening was very, very far away.
From a gentle thump to a harder shove as things started to escalate and stories of people dying began to dominate the headlines more and more. Not every day, not all day, but more. It was a harder shove as experts began to admit they didn’t know what they were facing or how to make it go away. The people we all trust to have this in hand were becoming increasingly uncomfortable and the news was starting to shift. The atmosphere was rather more charged. Sensational headlines- surely it was just the media doing what we like to blame the media for doing? Surely here in the UK, in Europe, we’re ok. We’re safe. We’re very, very far away.
From a gentle thump to a harder shove to a very definite kick in the stomach as our little safe haven from far away started to literally crumble. Italy- that’s not so far away! We’ve been there on holiday. We know people intending to visit soon- begins to report their own cases of the virus that has swept through China like a callous, greedy and ruthless boogie man. Italy. Once (and forever) our neighbours, our EU buddies. Our people. Italy begins to report more cases, more deaths, more fear. The same begins to happen in France. Now, France! France. The home of many a childhood holiday. The home of our own little family’s recent holiday. Our literal next door neighbours. Now France were starting to report their own cases. Suddenly its not so very, very far away.
From a gentle thump to a harder shove to a definite kick to a slow, grinding, twisting clench. A clench that does not go away. With every news report, every tweet, every Facebook post, every paranoid instruction to wash your hands, avoid people with a cough… finally it is here. The UK are reporting their very first case, as Italy goes into lockdown. People are told to stay indoors. People are dying. People are numbers now. Hospitals cannot cope. New laws are passed to prevent people from leaving their homes without good reason. The US closes all its borders to Europe, choosing to exclude the UK from its list of No-Entry for a few days only, before we too are closed off. Italy, France, Germany, Spain, so many other countries also closing borders, banning foreign travel, going into lockdown. Now things were all too real, so very. very close to home.
And the slow, grinding, twisting clench that does not go away is here as I read about the speed of its progression through Europe, now the epi-centre of the Corona virus. I read reports from doctors who tell us what we have to come. That we have to act. We need to become global citizens to save the world from this bleak future being set out before us. And so we’re told to wash our hands. Keep a distance from others. Avoid social gatherings. Wait, what? This is 2020! We’re free people. We have our own minds and our grandparents fought so that we could have this freedom! We need to relinquish it.
And so we withdraw. We cannot not withdraw. We take the kids out of brownies, we cancel dance lessons, we tuck our gym cards into a drawer and we wait for further instructions. We listen to the Prime Minister as he gives daily udpdates. First we’re told that anyone with a new cough or other symptoms must self isolate for 7 days. We’re told that the over 70s, pregnant women and those with an underlying heath condition are most at risk and must stay indoors. We all have loved ones that fall into these categories so that slow, grinding clench begins to intensify into a hammering beat within the chest.
From a gentle thump to a harder shove to a definite kick to a slow, grinding clench to a hammering beat… and here we are. New guidelines have been issued for anyone with a cough to self isolate along with their household for 14 days. No play dates, no lunch dates, no trips to the shops. No food because the shelves are bare in the supermarket and the online deliveries are booked up for weeks.
And then my own kids are sent home from school with suspected symptoms. My kids. Mine. Me. Us.
The hammering beat as I realise they are ok, but we are not ok. No real symptoms yet but people are scared. People want answers but there aren’t many to give. People, like me, never wanted their kids in school this week anyway- so when they’re returned to me I’m relieved and happy to keep them home inside our house, away from everyone else. But what next?
Today, schools in the UK are closing. Teachers are going to say goodbye to the few pupils left in the gaping classrooms. A few will return on Monday, but possibly not to the school where they feel safe, secure and happy. Possibly not to the teacher they know, trust and like. Schools are closing until further notice. Done. finished. The end.
From a gentle thump to a harder shove to a definite kick to a slow, grinding clench to a constant, deafening hammering… this is where we’re at. We’re making a new normal in a world that is now anything but. We don’t know how long it will take to emerge into a changed world where we can walk outside to breathe in the fresh air without fear. We don’t know how long it will take before things are under control and we don’t know how long it will take before we have some answers. For now we have each other and the constant, steady, almost comforting hammering beat.