As I begin to write beside my customary candle, I am feeling cabined, cribbed and confined, as Macbeth would say. I have been asked to self-isolate according to the NHS Covid app on my phone. I have six out of seven days still to run as I received the message yesterday.
Of course I have decided to obey the instruction, annoying though it is. When I delved into my personal data on the app, I discovered that whoever I came into contact with had declared a positive test yesterday, so, it must be said, the app is very efficient. But it is also, to the best of my knowledge, wrong. I was supposedly in contact with this person on Saturday. However, I never left my house on Saturday, so it was impossible for me to be in contact with anyone, except myself and I certainly haven’t had a positive test.
My annoyance, of course, stems from an injustice, petty though that injustice is. I am reminded of my career as a teacher. Children and young adults have an acute sense of injustice and, in my experience, more than most other things, it arouses an acute anger in them. So too with adults. The sense of being accused of something we didn’t do digs deep. It did with me yesterday. I smarted at it. ‘My gorge rises at it’, as Shakespeare would say; well it did rise. It is like being in a lunchtime detention and angrily watching your schoolmates playing outside the classroom window.
The injustice is, as I have already mentioned, petty and slight. It is nothing compared with those who are imprisoned for something they haven’t done. Or those who are incarcerated by oppressive regimes because of their political views, ethnicity, sexuality or religious faith. Neither have I been asked to shield for many months as so many have, with little opportunity to see loved ones. As I write this paragraph, I ask myself why I am complaining at all through this blog.
As I think back to yesterday, it was the loss of personal freedom that annoyed me most. But then, it is only for a few days, I have a freezer that is replete with food and none of us are going far at the moment anyway. Marcus would tell me to persevere, to endure this present annoyance.
But I have been asking myself why was this sudden loss of freedom so irksome to me? I think there were echoes of those first weeks of lockdown almost a year ago: the sudden changes imposed externally by the government, the return of a twinge of fear.
None of us likes to forego our liberty, It is something we have all battled with over the last gruelling months and we have perhaps, over time, been reduced to a tired resignation about it. But our liberty has to be gently pushed to one side in the medical emergency we are still in for the good of others. Just as having the vaccine (which I had two weeks ago) is not just to protect ourselves but also to protect others. So I am asked to self-isolate, even if erroneously, for the good of others, just in case. In the same way, we wear masks and drown our hands in cleansing fluid, just in case and as much for the good of others as for ourselves.
I am reminded of one of those occasions when my aunt Barbara would show me some of her numerous volumes of photographs, while staying with her on holiday on Vancouver Island. She was showing me pictures of my childhood and there I was as a toddler in a walking harness with her young and glamorous self holding the reins behind me. ‘You were so cute’ she said to me, I remember. I must admit to a cringe of embarrassment. I did not like to be reminded I was a toddler once and barely out of babyhood. There I was with my fat little legs – they are more shapely now of course!
In the photograph I was squirming in those walking reins and itching to move off, to walk away, to be free. It is a natural impulse -to be free. But the reins were there to keep me from falling over, from harming myself. We, too, at this moment are itching to be free of the reins of lockdown, to move on. And perhaps, yesterday, I was squirming in those reins again, because I had suddenly been reminded of them.
The weather has not been too cold to sit in my garden. Sitting there, I read these words. ‘Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.’ The words are not by Marcus Aurelius but Anne Frank, who was in hiding with her Jewish family behind a bookcase in concealed rooms above offices in Amsterdam from 1942-44 during the Nazi occupation. Self-isolation is nothing compared to what she endured with her family or afterwards, when she was discovered.
The great French novelist Marcel Proust (1877-1922) says ‘Turn your griefs, your suffering into ideas.’ A suitable creed for a writer, and so I have written this particular blog.
But I am not grieving or suffering. I am only annoyed. And, like all of us, I am weary with almost a year of various versions of lockdown. It is weariness, grumpiness, a fit of peak. My apologies. But if you read a blog, you must put up with the shifting emotions of the writer!
Perhaps Marcus can help us to endure what will hopefully be the last phase of lockdown, however long or short that phase may be: ‘When you arise in the morning,think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive and breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.’
Ave atque Vale – Hail and Farewell – until the next blog!
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