Le Nouveau Normal

My mother’s birthday is in March, the same month that the Irish celebrate Mother’s Day. In recent years, this has involved a flight – or more recently, a bus or train journey – to Dublin to spend those days together. It may involve a dinner at Clontarf Castle, a scenic drive along the coast road to Howth, or a meal in Malahide.

This year, it involved several phone calls during the day, and a Skype call to catch up after both events. We chatted about how the home renovations were coming along, the launch of Forgiving Jake, our government’s response to the pandemic, family history, the various challenges that face translating poetry, and how we were all trying to keep going.

The phrase “stiff upper lip” always struck me as being an extreme and almost inhumane attitude to have, and yet in some ways, I’ve maintained such an attitude so far throughout this pandemic. Once various restrictions were put in place, I’d try to look at the news in a neutral or even positive way: staying at home, once we had wifi, meant that my work continued as normal. I’d be able to help keep things clean while the renovations continued, and our builder was still able to work here. When the government increased their restrictions and the builder was no longer able to travel, I told myself that this new “pause period” meant that we could focus on decorating and improving the parts of our home that could be worked on, tasks that we may have left at the bottom of the priority list if our initial plans had been allowed to continue. When my partner & I have gone for walks to get some air, and the streets in our neighbourhood were practically deserted, I’d almost admire the situation, using my sometimes introverted nature as an excuse to enjoy the silence, instead of admitting to the eeriness of it all.

The reality, of course, is that while I am deeply aware of the privilege I possess – by holding a day-job that is (as yet) unaffected by this pandemic – there are so many others who are not as fortunate. Some have lost their jobs, and some of those are too intimidated by the paperwork required to seek government assistance. Other vulnerable people in our communities, whether through old age or underlying health conditions, are genuinely frightened to hear the daily news reports of new infections, deaths, and tales of those who are struggling to survive in hospital. Some are scared quite simply because with all this social distancing, they have never felt more alone. Others have already lost someone they loved, in a way that they wouldn’t wish on their worst enemy, and are not able to grieve in a way we’d assume would be natural.

My privilege is not a cause for celebration, but for gratitude. I am deeply grateful that those closest to me have not (yet) been affected. I’m grateful that I have someone I love by my side to comfort and support me every day, someone to keep me sane and stop me from being lonely. I’m grateful that I’m healthy enough to be able to do the occasional bit of shopping for elderly neighbours, and that I can call my friends, my grandmother, and my parents to check in on how they are. I’m grateful that I don’t need to worry about basic utilities like heat, electricity, and wifi, to continue living my life as normal, especially when there are many others who may not be as secure right now. Ultimately, I’m grateful for the aspects in my life that, until this occasion, could so easily be taken for granted by so many people.

Having wished my mother happy birthday again over Skype this evening, we said we’d meet up for dinner “when this is all over”. If the social distancing restrictions continue, maybe we’ll be able to meet halfway between Cork and Dublin, and have a picnic in a park somewhere. Such ideas were completely run-of-the-mill before all this started to happen, but now, they seem like scenes from an utopian future.

For now, all we can do is reach out to one another when we can, smile, and hope that this new normal doesn’t last for too long.

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