A funny thing happened on the way to get my coffee today (a rare outing these days). Every person I passed on the street smiled or said hello. Odd, I thought, even in this country. I walked on and saw people doing DIY in their garages. Mowing lawns on a work day. Talking to neighbours on nature strips. I saw hearts drawn on the footpath with ‘Have a good day’ written in blue chalk. Hopscotch on the next block. (Hopscotch! My three-year-old doesn’t even know what hopscotch is. But I resolved that he will this weekend.)
I called my friend in Vancouver on the way back. I mean, I actually called. Didn’t text. Didn’t Whatsapp. Didn’t Zoom. I pressed the handset icon for the first time in months. I wanted to hear his voice and chat while I wandered the neighbourhood, coffee in hand and eyes wide open.
Every day, just before the sun goes down, kids are racing their bikes up and down the street in front of our house. Littler ones are scooting and desperately trying to keep up with the tweens. Collecting rocks. Finding feathers. Picking hibiscus for their Mummy (how lucky am I?).
This whole coronavirus business is testing, to say the least. Corona fatigue has definitely set in. But flipping the script on this lockdown is the vibe on the street. (The actual street.) It feels good. It feels easy. It feels nostalgic. The last time I saw this much action in the ‘burbs was 1998. Before Apple invaded my pocket and Google my soul.
I’ve realised I spend a lot of time looking down – at my mobile, at my laptop and at my tablet. (That’s probably why I have chronic neck pain. That too, strangely, has dissipated in the past couple of weeks.) They’re all good things, of course. Internet usage has spiked by up to 70 per cent as we all work from home, stream flicks, post on social and keep ourselves sane through these devices. But a better balance has been forced upon us. It’d be mad not to enjoy (or even, indulge) in this simpler moment.
A moment as simple as visiting a friend, for example. I’m really looking forward to seeing one of my BFFs. Like, super excited. Like I used to be when my 14-year-old crew planned to go to the movies back in the day. The anticipation is unexpected, especially as I’ll just be heading around for an English breakfast tea. Sitting in the backyard, talking about nothing in particular. Because I haven’t been able to get in the car and go, I’m going to relish seeing her face.
In our on-demand culture, it’s rare to wait for anything. There’s no need for patience, self-control and delayed gratification. Millennials, the so-called Me Me Me Generation, don’t practise restraint. Now neither does anyone else. But this act of holding back does arguably make the marshmallow taste sweeter.
Better than that, stripping the sheer number of tasks a day down to just a few – get up (leave tracksuit on), drop off pre-schooler, power up laptop, make coffee, read email, watch The Bold and The Beautiful, pick up pre-schooler, sleep, repeat – is a huge relief. Massive. No more multitasking to drive my brain insane.
This goes hand in hand with ‘no more choice’. As we all know, too much choice can be overwhelming, even paralysing. I can’t overstate how easy it is to make decisions when there are only two options, not 25. Should I exercise or do the groceries today? In fact, I don’t care if I don’t do anything but stay in my tracksuit all day; I can exercise tomorrow and do groceries the day after. (Got to stretch the outdoor activities to last the week.)
Forget planning too. I don’t have to make plans for my birthday, plan a time to pick up that baby shower gift I forgot last week, make time in the morning to choose a professional-yet-hip outfit for work. I can finally breathe, free of the expectations of myself and others. Not just free, guilt free.
The politicians are right about one thing: this is a once-in-a-generation event. My generation was arguably the last to enjoy this kind of simple life. It’s a gift that the next generation can now enjoy too.
Corona fatigue has set in for sure, but something special is afoot. Outside in the streets, in the suburbs and, dare I say it, in our souls.