Day ten of lockdown and it has been a good day, for I received a phone call from the laboratory and a man with a very pleasant voice said, your Covid-19 test result was negative. This meant I could go walking again with my friend and we could enjoy the leisurely, meandering, richly satisfying kind of conversation that arises when friends get together and that now, in these very difficult times, has a heightened preciousness to it. Today the walk took us along Cheltenham beach, with the sea a band of sparkling sapphire at our side, and onto the volcanic cone at Maungauika/North Head for a 360 degree view of Waitemata Harbour empty of pleasure boats, the islands of Rangitoto and Motutapu at one end and a skeleton outline of the harbour bridge and the inner bays in the middle distance and way out on the horizon the emerald green rain forest of the Waitakere Ranges. My friend commented on the sharpness of the panorama, saying that air pollution in Auckland City is down 30 percent. And I looked and thought yes, I’ve never seen it so clear. All the details in the land and waterscapes were in sharp relief.
A negative Covid-19 result means that through all the period of feeling unwell and worrying that I might be infecting people, I was in fact clear of the virus. And therefore my worrying was in vain but therein lies a perplexing problem for us all. Even if you have the test and the result is negative your relief is short lived and can only be appreciated in retrospect. As soon as you visit the supermarket, or the pharmacy the spell will be broken for you run the risk, all over again, of being infected. My mother used to say, ‘Don’t worry until you have to,’ which was ironic coming from her because she was a worrier, as was my grandmother and my great-grandmother before her and they had good reason, they’d witnessed the deaths of children and husbands and parents, all of them well before their time, but it also meant their grief which manifested sometimes as anxiety was a weight their children had to bear. ‘Be careful. Don’t go too close to the edge. Make sure to cross at the lights. Are you sure you’re going to be alright? Phone when you get there. Don’t take any risks, stay safe, ...’ I grew up with those warnings ringing in my ears and underneath the refrain there was always a great, big, enormous unspoken fear, ‘Don’t Die!’ It’s taken me years of effort to try and undo the impact of this.
Living in fear is no way to live. And that’s exactly what we’re grappling with now in the time of Coronavirus. It’s like all the parents in the world are shouting from the mountain tops, ‘There’s something very dangerous spreading through our communities, don’t touch anything, don’t hug, keep your distance, wash your hands, cough into your elbow, stay in your bubble, cut yourself off from your friends and loved ones, stay at home.‘ It’s horrible. We’re living in a climate of suffocating fear and there seems to be no end to it. Everyday the worries increase. I listened to a virologist today on the radio, hoping a voice of sanity would prevail, and though he was impressively knowledgeable and the explanations were clear and logical the overall impact of what he was saying was very, very dispiriting.
I was speaking to my daughter, the play/child therapist this evening and I asked her how she had explained the virus to her three year old. I like her approach. She waited for him to ask. And when he did she limited the detail in her answers. He wanted to know why he wasn’t going to Starfish, his crèche. And she replied that Starfish had been closed. ‘How did they close it?’ he asked. And was satisfied with her answer, ‘With a key.’ But why did they close Starfish? She explained, ‘There’s a thing called a virus’ - she wasn’t going to use the word bug, because he would imagine the spiders and beetles he studies in his bug catcher - and it gives people a cough and sometimes a sore throat. To keep people well they want them to stay at home for awhile.‘ He has accepted this. He hasn’t asked to go to his crèche. Once he said, ‘I miss Sarah.’ He was referring to his teacher. They have moved to the country for this period to stay with his other grandparents, where he has lots of space to explore and play in, and although it is rather odd that Daddy and Grandma (a teacher) are both working upstairs, he is fully occupied with the creative games and activities his mother, the play therapist - lucky boy - dreams up for him. I think his mother is doing a fine job and that he will be okay.