I can’t decide whether Tennyson or Orwell best reflects my mood at the moment, but both writers certainly resonate, now that living through a screen is the safest way to connect with the outside world. Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott, of course, wasn’t even able to look out of her window without sacrificing her life, but when she said, “I am half sick of shadows,” she certainly reflected the way so many of us feel, given that we’re unable to visit, hug and engage with the people we love. In my case, it’s not Sir Lancelot that tempts me to defy the curse, it’s our adorable seventeen-month-old granddaughter who is growing and developing apace, but the feeling is definitely the same.
However, when our television set daily brings Big Brother and a parade of solemn faces from government and health officialdom, telling us how the War on the Virus is going and what we have to do in order to comply and assist in the battle, George Orwell comes to mind. The sad reality is that, whether reminiscent of a Victorian poem or a twentieth century novel, the curse, threat, or whatever we call it is out there and our behaviour is bound by external forces over which we have little, if any, control.
My husband and I never really felt that we were old until this terrible pandemic hit and we were informed that people over sixty-five had to stay at home. Hugh and I always tended to be ‘get out there and join in’ sort of people, so being side-lined is a novel (pardon the pun) experience. Watching from our isolation, it’s sad to see so many hopes and dreams dashed, and sad to realize the danger the brave people in the front lines are having to face on a daily basis. I’m sure many, like us, feel angry at times at the disruption to so many lives and the realization that things will not simply bounce back to where they were in pre-pandemic days. There’s also a natural desire to point fingers and lay blame—this should have been done faster; that should have been obvious much sooner—but at some point, we need to figure out how we became so vulnerable and what changes should be made for a safer future.
Lots of questions come to mind. Have we been negligent in critical areas? Has the terrible impact on senior homes been the result of hiring part-time caregivers (with no benefits) who have to work in more than one place to make a living wage? Have we made international travel too easily accessible and should we be prepared to accept more rigorous quarantine requirements to ensure that people do not carry communicable diseases between countries? Should some products and services be manufactured within our own country to ensure we never face the alarming shortfall of critical supplies that has occurred with the current pandemic? Are we going to continue buying products from countries where human rights are ignored and working conditions are such that we would consider them unacceptable? If so, are we prepared to continue looking the other way so we can continue to get cheap goods, or will we be prepared to pay more for the same items made by our own citizens working for a decent wage?
There are a lot more questions that need to be asked. I certainly don’t know the answers, but I am sure we can’t wait for this to pass and assume that things will be the same afterwards. I try not to dwell too much on the fact that the world has become a darker and more frightening place, or that the road to recovery will be long. Now, I simply hope that there are no other catastrophes waiting in the wings, for there is always the danger that one crisis triggers other problems. However, Hugh and I try to be optimistic, since that is the best way to cope and move forward. We are so grateful for those who are out there in the front lines, helping those who are ill and keeping the supply chains moving. They truly are the heroes of the hour, and if nothing else, this crisis has underlined who the truly essential people are in our society. Here’s hoping that when we make it through to better and safer times, they will continue to be valued as much then as they are now.