At the start of the pandemic I felt energised. Now I feel seasick

Hilary Fannin: I’m so glad to read good news headlines, so why am I struggling?

A cleaner at one of the temporary public toilet facilities installed on streets in Dublin as lockdown restrictions are eased. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

A cleaner at one of the temporary public toilet facilities installed on streets in Dublin as lockdown restrictions are eased. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

‘Is this fun?” my nephew used to ask when he was a little boy. 

“Is this fun?” he’d tentatively inquire when we arrived at the park and lifted him out of his buggy and on to a swing. 

“Is this fun?” he’d wonder when we encouraged him to slide down the gentle rigging of the pirate ship in the Princess Diana memorial playground in Kensington Gardens in London, a place we used to visit when the children were small. 

“Is this fun?” he’d ask as we stood by the Round Pond there, watching the swans snub the tourists and the miniature remote-controlled pleasure boats glide over the soupy water.

Is this fun? It’s a question that seems to me not an unreasonable one to keep asking of your life, even if you’re not a three-year-old holding on to your favourite dinosaur

Is this fun? It’s a question that seems to me not an unreasonable one to keep asking of your life. It’s worthy of examination at any age, an important matter even if you’re not a three-year-old holding on to your favourite dinosaur.

“Is this fun?” I asked myself, looking across the long stretch of Sandymount Strand the other day, the grainy sand running into the grainy sea and the rain hovering and then falling and then lashing. “Is this fun?” I asked myself, running back to the haggard car.

This is not fun, I thought, looking out from the driver’s seat through the tear-stained glass. Not any more.

At the start of the coronavirus crisis I felt almost energised by the challenges ahead, curious to witness the new dispensation. It’s only a pandemic, I reasoned. I have a family pack of bog roll stashed under the stairs – how tough can it get? 

Okay, there were personal disappointments to overcome. My book launch was torpedoed; I calculated the cost as anticipated work opportunities slipped through my fingers. Also, any hopes I had of going to Spain to see my sister, who hasn’t been feeling too hot, were scuppered. But, as the weeks accumulated, so too did the awareness that these things were nothing. They were mere crumbs of discomfort, not worth mentioning in the face of death and illness and loneliness and loss and unemployment and disruption. 

When the Leaving Cert was finally scrapped, it was a relief, but the decision resulted, too, in a strange flatness. That aborted mission meant the start of a summer, maybe much longer, of free- floating through space, cut off from the mother ship of responsibility. 

As the weeks went on I might have bemoaned not being able to meet a friend in a bar or to watch the dance of unknown lives from behind a book in a busy cafe, the greeting and kissing and whispering and laughing and sighing and waving goodbye. But then I’d remind myself not to be like the princess in the children’s story, unable to sleep on her pile of mattresses because of these pea-sized concerns. 

I’m privileged to observe the reports about the work of the frontliners on a flat screen from the comfort of my shabby couch

I’ve found myself watching news reports and thinking how lucky I was to be there three years ago when my mother died in her care home, how blithely, unknowingly lucky I was that I didn’t have to witness her departure through a triple-glazed window. And with so many friends and family reeling from body blows to their industries, I realise my good fortune, too, that I can provide a home for an adult son whose life has been upended by the virus.

I’m privileged to observe the reports about the work of the frontliners on a flat screen from the comfort of my shabby couch, and even to have the time and space to watch the arthritic cat roam around the backyard unable now to pounce on the starlings.

I’m grateful; I juggle luck and guilt like a shabby clown in an empty fairground. And I should probably apologise, because I meant to write an optimistic, sunny column this week, one when the news is so much better than it was, when there were so few new cases and the country continued opening up again. 

I’m so glad to read those headlines, so why am I struggling now, when I wasn’t before? And am I alone in this?

Maybe I’m a little afraid of the uncommon commonplace, wary of the skewered quotidian, a slightly seasick reality that I’m yet to find my balance in.  

The other day, for no good reason, the rain streaming down the windshield, the horizon obscured by a rolling mist, I remembered my nephew’s repeated question, his innocence and sincerity, remembered reassuring him that, yes, this swing was fun, that the strangeness of the sensation goes away after a while and you realise that you’re safe.

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