All the fun has gone out of the pandemic. It’s not that I mean to be flippant about something which has cost a million lives globally, and which continues to cause economic devastation. Yet most people acknowledge that there were real positives to the sudden interruption to normal life imposed by the spring lockdown. This time around, I wonder if we’ll manage to be quite so cheerful in the face of adversity.
Last March, we suddenly stopped rushing from pillar to post. The skies turned bluer, as pollution fell. Families spent weeks of uninterrupted time together. We realised that we can have happy holidays without leaving our garden. Many kids became less stressed, by learning at their own pace from home and playing in the garden between lessons. Fun was found in small things. Nobody had ever experienced such a radical alteration to normal life before, outside of times of war. There was much to welcome in this a temporary lifestyle change. The weather played a part, by delivering one of the sunniest and driest springs on record for the lockdown.
We were wise to try to make the most of it, for the children’s sake especially. There was certainly no point in moping fearfully around the house. Yet, in the background, there were daily tales of tragedy as lives were lost and a sinister disease wound its insidious tentacles around the planet. There was fear, since nobody knew when it might strike us. We lived with the knowledge that my wife was close to the virus each day, since she worked in the hospital’s emergency department. The novelty of house arrest soon wore off, and by the time the lockdown eventually eased, freedom could not come soon enough.
We grasped at summer as a hiatus. This intermission was made all the more precious by the knowledge that the summer was just a sort of half-time break. It was widely flagged that autumn and winter would bring a second wave, which could be worse than the first. Despite being forewarned it was surprising how quickly the virus spread in the early weeks of autumn. Case numbers climbed rapidly, even though the weather remained summery. Dublin and Donegal were the first to re-enter tighter restrictions. Simultaneously, it’s becoming clear that large sections of society couldn’t be bothered to do much to contain the spread. What will happen when even more people grow frustrated, just as the weather turns colder, thereby helping the virus to spread?
For now, the kids’ lives have resumed with some semblance of normality. School is up and running and sports clubs are managing to meet, even if it involves Covid-19 declarations, hand sanitiser and some element of social distancing. There is a strong sense that this approximation of normality hangs in a precarious balance. Schools are already putting in place systems for the eventuality that some, or all, learning may yet have to take place from home. The notion of a lockdown in the depths of winter is a claustrophobic and dreary prospect.
Yet if this winter is to be darker than most, then Christmas is the distant beacon towards which we must now sail. This year, there will be no pantomimes, no nativity plays and no visits to Santa’s grotto. Even going to church on Christmas morning looks set to be off the cards. The beauty of Christmas is that it shines brightest in times of adversity. The fires will be lit, and families will gather together warmly, whatever storms afflict the world outside the window. For even as this strange winter approaches, there are happy days ahead.