The other day my brother told me that lockdown was the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year. He wasn’t entirely accurate – apparently, there are so many words that have either appeared or become more prevalent this year that the OED is having trouble picking one. They describe 2020 as an unprecedented year for language change and development. I doubt anyone would argue. It’s been unprecedented in many aspects.
Does anyone else mark the events in their life this year with before/after lockdown? I use the term so often it’s becoming a cliché, and I laughed the other day when someone said that BC is now Before Covid and AD is After Disease. Jesus would be spinning in his grave if he hadn’t rolled that stone away.
I realise that many of you are not yet in a position to refer to a post-lockdown life. Or you have been and have now been able to add Between Lockdowns to your lexicon. I feel for you. We know how lucky we are down here at the bottom of the world; lucky in that we are geographically able to control access to our country with ease; lucky that we have a government that is prepared to tackle this pandemic head-on. Our lockdown measures have been described as draconian by some, prompting Kiwis on social media to point out, with heavy sarcasm, what an awful place we live in. (Google #NZhellhole.)
Given that we have more freedom than a lot of the world right now there are few complaints. We can visit any shop we choose and buy whatever we like; we are able to sit in a pub with friends and order a pint; we can go for dinner at a restaurant. We can even plan our Christmas parties or holidays (within NZ). Of course, any planning has to be with the understanding that we are not yet free of the disease – we are at Alert Level One, not Alert Level None. Cases are still coming into border quarantine from overseas and no one doubts that we could have another outbreak. But please believe me when I repeat: we all know how lucky we are.
This is always a challenging time of year for me, so far away from family when Christmas is around the corner. When the days here are getting longer and summer is just around the corner (hopefully – it’s dragging its heels a bit), in my birth country the nights are drawing in and thoughts turn to cosy evenings around the fire. Or radiator in most houses, and don’t get me started about the lack of those here. I struggle to write Christmas cards when I’m sitting outside in shorts with the warm sun on my back (okay, summer did visit for a couple of days last week, but it’s now buggered off again) when instead I should be sitting by twinkling lights wearing a big woolly. It’s hard to do twinkling lights when it doesn’t get dark enough to turn them on until it’s almost bedtime.
I’ve made my peace with not knowing when I can travel again, but even when I could hop on a plane should I choose to, the season always reminds me that I don’t know when I’ll hug my loved ones, and casts a blanket of sadness over me. For a period a couple of weeks ago I felt something akin to survivor guilt, celebrating birthdays with friends here as those in the UK were entering their second lockdown. It’s okay saying you’ll raise a glass to absent friends, but when they have their movements compromised in a way that you don’t it’s hard not to feel guilty. I hope it’s not long before they can all talk about post-lockdown life.
The speed with which pharmaceutical companies have developed and tested a vaccine is also unprecedented (maybe that should be the word of the year), a process that normally takes years fast-tracked to less than one. In a world of darkness and bad news the reports that more than one company is close to licencing and mass-producing an effective vaccine is the best Christmas present.