I began writing this several times during the six weeks since the start of ‘lockdown’ . Other things have drained time and emotion, and the currency and perhaps validity of the writing has been overtaken by events more than once. it is surprisingly difficult to write about aspects of identity when so much of what informs it is gone.
I am lucky. At the time of writing I have not (to my knowledge) lost any friends or family, either directly to this awful disease, or indirectly to its consequences. For so many that is not so, and I imagine their experience both of the COVID-19 pandemic and of the lockdown, will be one of loss, exacerbated by solitary mourning, without the comfort and reassurance of embrace. Daily statistics shaping a national grief, are masking individual tragedy that will send ripples of loss across families and communities for decades to come.
Others, like myself, have lost livelihood. A self–employed and zero hours worker – by March I had work arranged until the Autumn. As the reality of the horror to come advanced over the horizon, closures seeped across the land like some catastrophic economic spillage. Cancellation after cancellation arrived, and in 2-3 days in the middle of March, a portfolio of work I had spent a decade building, was gone. Loss of income follows, but also loss of purpose, identity and planned future. Who we think we are now may not seem the greatest priority in the face of such loss, and upheaval. But I suspect the answers we find in these days will in some way shape the rest of our lives.
At the time, and for 3 weeks afterwards I was numb. I told others that as awful as it was, there was no point in ‘becoming stressed’ as there was nothing to be done, and others had lost so much more. Then the profound – and I see now inevitable – sense of shock and trauma arrived, I was floored, literally. I began to wonder not only what I would do, but who I would be. The sectors I work in are largely dependent on face to face contact, and the absence of this, not only now, but in the months to come, may well lead to a different way of life, chosen or otherwise. Only in recent days have I acknowledged, that as painful as those losses were, I may one day look back to know they saved my life.
Many others, may have had similar experiences, although not all. This will I suspect, have been a very different ‘war’ for those who emerge from the other side with their working lives, incomes and professional identities intact. And for them ‘peacetime’ may well have more of a ‘business as usual’ air about it, than for those of us having to forge a new path.
There is also I have discovered recently, a more insidious, albeit temporary, loss. Independence. In an (otherwise) independent household, but one with several health conditions increasing risk if the disease is contracted, we have been forced to rely on the kindness of others more than would ever normally be the case. I have been so lucky that such kindness is there, and embedded in my local community I have not had to look far for help. I am however by nature a contributor and giver. In any situation my first question would be ‘what can I do?’. And it has been frustrating and almost confusing, that in this context my contribution (other than to observe the lockdown of course) is not yet clear.
These are almost dystopian days. We stand on the edge of an unimagined, future, shaped by inevitable difference. The very absence of what defines us will lead many to reflect and reprioritise. For some life will have changed irrevocably, with or without reflection.
Forced to encounter our lives and ourselves, at close proximity without distraction – in the end we will have all lost something. If only a fundamental sense of security, in the understanding that never again in our lives will we be able to take quite so much for granted.
Postscript: I have been sustained during these days by many things including the natural world, music and new forms of contact with others. The relationship between these activities and identity will be the subject of further thoughts.
All text © A-Sense-of-Place.org 2020