Hilary Fannin: I developed a foreboding about being released from lockdown

I’m no advocate of life in Level 5, but now it has ended I lament something of its stillness

Walkers on Dollymount Strand in Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Walkers on Dollymount Strand in Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Stockholm syndrome, a condition in which hostages develop a psychological alliance with their captors during captivity, may be too dramatic a term to apply to the vague sense of foreboding I’ve recently developed about being released into the wild after lockdown – but it comes close.

Some routines developed over the past few months will be difficult to part with; equally, they may be difficult to maintain in the light of new possibilities and ways of giddily frittering away one’s time.

I mean, am I, for example, actually going to continue roasting pumpkins and fashioning falafel balls out of chickpea flour when I could be, you know . . . out’n’about, having my roots done and talking to three-dimensional people with whom I share no DNA and who have never seen me in a dressing gown?

Will I soon forget what I’ve recently discovered, that within a 5km radius of my home there really is more than enough to meet my needs? A fish shop, a park, a beach, a community garden

And who knew you could live so long and so comfortably in trousers without a waistband? Getting back into a pair of jeans could pose some serious challenges for re-entry into the stratosphere.  

And am I going to have to forfeit my mornings lying on my back next to the coal scuttle while an inspirational Texan yoga teacher (who comes free, courtesy of YouTube) tells me to breathe, just breathe, and that every little thing is going to be all right? 

And will I soon forget what I’ve recently discovered, that within a 5km radius of my home there really is more than enough to meet my needs? A fish shop, a park, a beach, a community garden where herbs grow and seeds are planted and people are kind. (And, yes, I know my locational luck and that the dice fell right.) 

With just the slightest loosening of the Covid leash I can even reach a bookshop in a nearby village that’s situated right opposite a charity shop where, in a break before the last lot of restrictions kicked in, I dropped off some stuff and then bought a second-hand coat. I wonder if I’ll remember, when I’m free to yearn again, the feeling of freedom I experienced in jettisoning rather than consuming.

Like any half-decent captive, though, something stirs my dreams, and I wake up in the dead of night feeling like the walls are closing in – and, without doubt, the past few weeks have been the toughest since this whole fandango began. The prospect of yoyoing in and out of further restrictions bleeds energy, smothers spontaneity, saps hope.

I’m no advocate of lockdown; I’m sick to the back teeth of it. I wonder, though, if, on the other side, we may learn to lament something of its stillness.

I went for a walk with my friend, who is a painter, the other day. We walked, at a careful distance, all along the strand to where the seals sleep in the morning sun. I was mindful of not invading her space.

Since last January, when her husband was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukaemia, she and he have been living in rigorous isolation. No family visits, no friends dropping over. They left their rural home together only for his medical appointments.

‘We have had,’ my friend said, referring to her unwell husband, ‘the most precious year of our lives. Every single moment mattered. Each and every one’

During the summer, her pregnant daughter came home from the UK and quarantined elsewhere. When they could finally meet, my friend shrouded her daughter in a huge tablecloth and hugged her. Just once.    

As the illness progressed, my friend and her husband tried to keep to their routines: her work, his garden, the radio, the candle on the dinner table, the cats arching along the sill. When the call finally, miraculously, came for a bone marrow transplant, his bags had long been packed. 

Now he’s a day patient in Dublin, and they wait again, with fresh hope.

While we walked, I told my friend that I was feeling unsure of my footing now that it seemed the world might reopen. 

“It’s as if the door has been left ajar,” I told her, “but I’m cautious about pushing it open. I’m not exactly afraid, just weary and a bit dented by the last few months”

“Nothing is simple,” she said. “You can’t know the future. Neither can you judge it in advance. How could I have ever known that it would take a cancer diagnosis and a global pandemic to show me real happiness?”

“We have had,” she added, referring to her husband, “the most precious year of our lives. Every single moment mattered. Each and every one.”

We walked on in the stillness and silence of a glorious morning, looking out at the long, generous flow of light across the water.

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