Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
There are many reasons to look forward to the return of normalcy. The idea of being hemmed in around a pub table amongst my friends, elbows jostling, and pints fizzing is a scene I find my mind turning over frequently, setting off on an aimless wander with no government approved reason for doing so is another. All the better if I can pass people without having to pick a side of the pavement or dive into a bush in a bid to maintain distance. I want to be nine people deep in a queue for a Mr Whippy on a blisteringly hot day. There is a lot to be said, and indeed a lot has been said, for the influence of COVID-19 in encouraging us to appreciate how lucky we were before.
For most of us, life has been broiled down to a sugar free, considerably less joyful version of what it was before. But, equally, for those of us privileged enough to feel relatively secure in terms of the fulfilment of our basic needs, our newly shrunken worlds can be the source of some comfort. Having recently remotely wrapped up my university studies I, along with many other new graduates, find myself teetering uncertainly on the precipice of adult life.
Beneath all the fun and stress that tends to characterise the final year of university, lurks the increasingly urgent notion that it is time to sort things out. We’ve had our fun (at Edinburgh University four years of it) and now it’s time to buckle up and decide on where and what next. Of course, there are some who seem to have everything is in place for them to hop gracefully onto the next stage. But for the rest of us, the motlier remainder, the future can be a terrifying prospect.
So, in some ways the enforced stasis brought on by COVID-19 has offered brief respite. The question ‘so, what next?’ offered up by well-meaning family members and older friends now seems mildly preposterous given that no-one really has any idea what new world lies in wait. For many, plans have been delayed indefinitely: we have all been ordered directly back to Go, without collecting the £200 and without much idea of when we might be told to move again.
To be able to take any silver linings from this situation reveals enormous privilege. For many, the uncertainty and isolation of life during lockdown is devastating. Experiencing this period as lull in which to recollect and reorganise is a rare and lucky thing.
Nevertheless, it is an exhausting endeavour to treat empathy as a bounded and finite thing. Unlike loo roll or flour, kindness need not be in short supply. The implications of COVID-19 on people’s mental health are diffuse and diverse. For some it is the uncertainty of life during lockdown that poses most difficulty. For others it is the prospect of being shoved back out into a world which has resumed at merciless full throttle: unable to keep up or being swept under.
So, it is understandable that despite uncomplicated desires to hold our loved ones tight again and return to a life that is not so tightly prescribed, there might be some hesitancy about lockdown being lifted. We have known some form of lockdown for many weeks now and the fortunate have been able to settle into these gentler ways of life. Particularly for new and undecided graduates the idea of finding our way in a world with paths that are even more unclear than they were before, is not enticing.
We must hope that what sticks of the pandemic is some empathy. As we come together again, let’s give each other some more space to muddle through.