Day 71 and I’m staggered at how much time has elapsed since day one when we awoke on the first morning in lockdown, all of us in shock at how everything had changed so rapidly in just two days — that’s all the time we had to prepare— and feeling fearful for the future that stretched, unknown, before us. When we opened our eyes on that day we wondered how many people would succumb to the virus here and how many would die. Would it take any of our elders, those with fragile immune systems, our health workers, the very young, the very disadvantaged?
Here on the side of Takararo I was terrified I would fall ill and infect my precious writing friend in the house above and so we kept our distance and were rigid about it. Sometimes through those long, quiet days it was tantalising hearing them in the house above, their movements, the murmur of voices, yes tempting but also comforting. But we never relaxed on the arrangement, they were public health academics after all. Instead we developed a routine where my friend would stand at the top of the stairs and I would be down below looking up and getting a crick in my neck, listening to her talk, then having my turn. I wouldn’t have missed this daily checking in for anything. On other nights she would place a bowl of steaming rice and stir fry on the top step, or her freshly baked sunflower seed bread wrapped in a serviette along with a bowl of lentil soup and I would receive these gifts and set them up on my table by the glow of lamplight and give thanks for the good food my friend had provided.
It’s funny although we are mixing more now in level 2, we’ve held onto the mentoring routine from alert level 4 and still do the writing sessions by Zoom, my friend in her study, one floor above and me down below. The screen sharing function suits the nature of the work. We can both read her journal-memoir of this strange year and she, in charge of the controls, can make adjustments as we go. I don’t edit too much. She has that knack and notices and hears, for she reads the manuscript aloud, and knows when something isn’t right. My role is to keep her on track with her writing goals, to offer my feedback as an interested reader, to tune in to my instincts and share them, to ask her to clarify when something isn’t immediately obvious. Near the beginning of the process I insisted she go back to the beginning and get the back story straight; the childhood experiences, the events and characters that have peopled her life, the training and career direction, the pivotal moments, her marriage, her children and grandchildren and the big years when she was director of the surveillance of non-communicable diseases at the WHO in Geneva. With this explanatory text as her introduction she could build on the material as the narrative developed without having to explain things. It has been a pleasure to work on this project during lockdown, to watch something emerge from nothing and slowly blossom.
Today was our 13th day with no new cases and only one active case in the country. Amazing. What an achievement for this country, this government. We're in such a good place. Soon we will be moving into alert level 1. Yet this feels fast. I'm still adjusting to level 2. Tonight was another first. The meeting of a Buddhist sangha in a city suburb, in a church hall behind a photinia hedge. As I pushed open the dark green door in the hedge and heard bells ringing, all of a sudden I felt uncertain. The Zoom meetings were strange initially but people adapted. I had become accustomed to being on my own in front of a screen meditating.
In the hall porch I looked down as I took my shoes off. To see so many dear familiar faces arriving through the door was almost too much. It reminded me of the feeling after giving birth at home, to my daughter, in an attic flat in Kentish Town. I think I stayed up there for ten days before I eventually came down, with my baby in a front pack, and walked out into the world. The sunlight as I stepped onto the pavement was dazzling. I felt wobbly and overwhelmed by the light and noise and movement.
Thankfully tonight there was the thirty minute meditation to open the evening. In that space, eyes closed, body upright, a feeling of air between each vertebrae and comfortable on the cushion, I felt myself settling into my body, coming home to myself. Sitting there, attending to the breath, I observed a flow of thoughts moving through without getting snagged on anything in particular. Occasionally I got lost and gently steered my attention back to the breath, the constant element available within, to return to again and again. Once, in the peaceful zone, I heard the rain wash over, heard it pattering on the corrugated iron roof and was filled with a feeling of joy. It led me down a thought track, one I noticed and let happen, to a remembrance of childhood and nights on the farm, tucked up in bed in the warm, with the rain drumming on the iron roof, knowing my parents were just down the hall, siblings in their beds next door and feeling secure, safe, loved, carefree.