Opinion: Life in lockdown has left us all wobbling

How quickly we can collapse our social order, turn inside-out our reality. What was once the norm, overnight becomes redundant.

All parks and reserves closed in Napier due to the Covid-19 epidemic. Source: Getty

We’ve landed our planes, stopped some magazines and community newspapers from publishing, and taken our kids out of school. We’re dismantling our institutions and laying people off.

It’s the same table, but someone’s whipped away the tablecloth and we’re wobbling about, trying to keep our balance.

We’re doing life differently and although it’s hurting, badly, we seem largely in agreement about one thing - that it’s necessary.

I went for a walk in the park. It was an exercise in opposites - starting with the fact that I do not like going for walks but now I actually want to.

My home is my haven, a place to hunker down in, but it’s now also a prison that I want to explode from. I gave other walkers a wide berth. Only a week ago, this would’ve been a curious rudeness. Now it’s the height of courtesy.

I saw a dead monarch butterfly. I’d normally note its beauty and pass by; instead I bent down and cupped it in my hands. Picking up dead insects is not my thing, but I had a sudden urge to show it to my 8-year-old, who was across the park with her father.

As I carried its featherweight over what suddenly felt like the largest field in the world, I began to imagine it coming back to life, like a Franken-Fly.

Its paper wings fluttered inside my palms, its furry black legs began to kick in a newborn fury. By the time I reached my daughter I was desperately pushing down panic so that I could teach her, in a halo of mother-nature calm, about the circle of life.

As I opened my palms there lay, simply, a dead butterfly.

Work is different, too. The Sunday team usually sit elbow to elbow, but we’re now split down the middle. Each side alternating between home and office, and each side ready to move into a vacuum left by even the close threat of the virus.

When I was drafted into a team apart from my best mate, I was scythed by a surprising feeling that I later identified as grief. How long would it be?

Grief. I suspect many of us are in it, but don’t recognise it yet.

For many, our grief will be the loss of everyday freedoms, the confusion about how to string out a day, or how to teach our children.

There is no church, no library, no hall to escape to, no bricks and mortar to practise the rituals that normally bring us comfort. There are no hugs or kisses or community.

And then, what lies beyond the lockdown? We have little idea and all the time in the world to consider it.

Tonight my husband and I joined an online workout. I struggled through it, though not with my customary reluctance. I flung my arms this way and that, kicked my legs up and down, held a plank for a wobbly minute, all with an impressive - for me - forbearance.

In the developing list of doing things differently this was fairly tame but still, new. "It’s like relearning how to be a human," my husband said.

That’s what this lockdown is. This astonishing, unsettling, fascinating experiment - a global exercise in how to be human.

And if there is any upside, perhaps it lies in the fact that we can turn our world upside down, shake it out, and still live with it.

The next experiment lies in emerging from this new reality and how much we will want, and be able, to restore the old world order.