Monday, January 24, 2022

These Precious Days: Why 2022 Us Might Be Better Prepared For Pandemic Life

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Good weather, good people and a sense of being handed a temporary ‘get out of jail free card’ – why did this feel like the summer of a lifetime?

There’s an old saying, “Man plans, God laughs,” which always seemed a bit grim, really, but then you enter year three of a global pandemic and grim realism is now the daily foundation in which we plan our lives. A year ago, we were all bright and shiny with the hope that Covid-19 would also feel a flush of ‘new year, new you’, create a different life path or some short-term goals and leave us alone.

Well, here we are. We are still pretty bright and shiny of course – relatively, in that thanks to mass vaccinations, luck, sunshine and good-planning, Aotearoa has managed to pull off yet another mostly Covid-free January holiday, a break that has been denied to much of the world.

But maybe 2022 us is better prepared, mentally, for what life in a global pandemic is like. And maybe – just maybe – we’re getting better at relishing those good parts in between.

Last year, I wrote that living In Aotearoa while Covid-19 was raging in Australia was like trying to be calm when your neighbour’s house burned down and that sense of wariness is starting to encroach again. The stack of canned goods in what our flat now refers to as ‘the pandemic cupboard’ is always a good indicator of our household’s mood – right now, ours is piled high.

But then, conversely, it was also the best summer break I’ve had in my lifetime. From what a lot of my friends have said, it was the same for them as well. Sure, the weather plays a huge part in that – once you’ve been rained out in your camping ground on a sodden New Year’s Eve where your tent collapses at 2am, you are always grateful when there’s blue skies ahead on the big day itself – but there’s something else at play as well.

There is this sense that the break was so good because of where it fits in the timeline. A lot of Aotearoa moved out of some sort of lockdown a month before Christmas, and there’s the reality that we will probably move back in to some sort of lockdown as omicron continues to knock on our front door.

Because we have been temporarily stripped of our ability to plan more than two weeks ahead, it feels like we’ve become better at grabbing sudden opportunities with both hands when they do appear.

I completely acknowledge that this is still a very hard time to be living in. The effects of a pandemic – mentally, financially, spiritually – are still taking a huge toll on us all, and absolutely some more than others. But maybe 2022 us is better prepared, mentally, for what life in a global pandemic is like. And maybe – just maybe – we’re getting better at relishing those good parts in between.

Because we have been temporarily stripped of our ability to plan more than two weeks ahead, it feels like we’ve become better at grabbing sudden opportunities with both hands when they do appear. An impromptu catch-up with friends. An sudden nip to the beach for a swim on your lunch break, or after work.

Every time I’ve gone out in the past few weeks, there’s been a mini Love, Actually style reunion at a café, or on the beach, friends hugging each other with the sheer joy of being able to see each other face to face and god, that’s a beautiful way to live, isn’t it? To be constantly reminded of what is most important, and what we miss the most when things shut down.

I know this is getting very ‘life, laugh, love’ of me but holding onto the gratitude of what we got this summer will hopefully make whatever comes next a tiny bit easier. A sunny day*. A hug from a friend. A swim at the beach. A weekend away. As the Persian poet Omar Khayyam said, ‘Be happy for this moment; this moment is your life.’ As a whole, we’re getting better at cherishing those moments and we’re all better off for it. May we continue to keep this attitude as we start yet another uncertain year.

*It is classic New Zealand timing that I write this as a cyclone is scheduled to make landfall.

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