I suspect that, over the next couple of days, we are going to hear an awful lot about ‘shock-tactics’, ‘poor communication’ and even the return of the dreaded ‘c’ word – ‘confusion’. The late-scheduled NPHET meeting last evening, and the early return (by a day) of the CMO, would indicate that serious and substantial information and projections have come to hand that have necessitated these dramatic (and slightly traumatic) developments. How this is worked out between politicians and civil servants is beyond our control; what is within our ‘pay-grade’ is a review, both personal and societal – as to what, if anything we have learned so far.
The recently published ‘Plan for Living with Covid-19 (Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021)’ was both needed and essential; but there is a sense that we as a society have been treating it a little bit like we treat traffic lights – As a guidance system rather than as an adherence requiring safety system. The vagueness about slipping in to ‘Levels Plus’ didn’t help. While most of us do respect ‘red’ and ‘green’, too many of us use the warning ‘orange’ as an invitation to speed up and get through before it’s too late. When we hear a change in level is likely, we tend to cram in our extra contacts up front, in case we don’t get to see loved ones again for some time. On a human level, this makes sense, but in terms of a virus, it means that we are actually in danger of fast-forwarding the spread.
We have become obsessed with bemoaning those who flout the rules – which is actually beyond our control, further deepening our frustration; while subtly and quietly bending the rules ourselves and making choices that can have very serious consequences. We are tired beyond words, and we are stressed, and we are losing our kindness, as we allow a sense of injustice and righteous indignation to cloud our own responsibilities. We are forgetting that those in charge do not have some superhuman capacity, mistakes will be made, but lessons will be learned. How we expect and respond is what really matters.
In the early stages of this pandemic we were comforted and assured by calm leadership, and reasonably clear communication. I used to watch the daily briefings and try to imagine what was going on in the professional and personal lives of those who were speaking. Invariably the image of the duck/swan gliding across the waters while pumping unseen feet madly beneath the surface. We were appreciative and we were accepting of frailty as everyone was literally making things up as they went along. As the cracks in cohesive support began to appear, the vast majority of us still kept doing our thing. Some would call it blind-foolishness, but we trusted those who were trying to lead us out of dangerous and choppy waters.
In some ways ‘flattening the curve’ was much easier than building a recovery. It was always going to stretch us to accept tough decisions once we have experienced even limited freedoms. But going backwards into lockdown-esque restrictions is really going to test us. Our reserves of energy, enthusiasm and compliance are fast-depleting, and yet we will have to dig in once again. We never truly know what our limits are until we are pushed to the very end of ourselves. People all over the world have had to learn this when dealing with Ebola, cruel and brutal war, starvation, drought and unrelenting oppression. I suspect that our reserves of cope-ability are much deeper than we imagine. This is more than a sprint, it’s much more than a marathon, it is a ‘long walk’ through perilous mountains. We need to change our perspective and try to see this as a quest, hopefully not a Don Quixote type quest, but rather a ‘Lord of the Rings’ type struggle, where everything we do must be for the good of others as well as ourselves; where setbacks are inevitable, but perseverance and resilience become ever constant companions, where we decide to be kind, where we decide to be courageous, where we refuse to be defined by a nasty virus, but to do everything we can to help as many as we can through the mess.
Whatever these next few days bring it is time for us to own the solutions – God knows we have heard them often enough – Keep social distancing, keep sticking to your handwashing and sanitizing regime, keep practising your coughing and sneezing etiquette etc; keep trying. And keep smiling, not in some quasi-it-will-be-alright-if-I-just-pretend-it’s-ok-way. But in a, I’m going to do all in my power to make this journey to recovery as hope-filled and positive as I humanly can-way.
This virus can steal so much from us, our energy, our trust, our hope, our joy: our ability to grieve, our ability to live as we want; but it cannot be allowed to define us. That is the critical lesson of the past 7 months (and more), we cannot allow Covid-19 to determine our attitude and our spirit anymore. We are in this for the long haul, and whether we like it or not, we are in this together. Existing and surviving through this, is no longer enough, it’s time for us to grow; to grow deeper and wider.