The air has a springlike feel about it. There is the smell of sweet pollen in the air and daffodils and jonquils have popped up in gardens, splashing their colour and perfume around. As I ride around my neighbourhood, I suddenly notice that the prunus trees have erupted into fragile pink blossoms. They always herald the changing of the season, a bit of joy in the otherwise, for me, bleak winter; a time that I loathe unless I am huddled by an open fire.
To all intents and purposes the day is beautiful, a balmy 15 degrees is forecast, the sun is out and yet this is the first week of our stage four lockdown in Melbourne, a new era in the unprecedented times that we now face. I realise that it all seems wrong, that there is such a cognitive dissonance between what I am seeing – a glorious day, a precursor to spring – and the ghastly news that reaches us each day about rising numbers of COVID-19 cases.
Perhaps it is this cognitive dissonance that is, in fact ,driving the increase in numbers and some of the poor behaviour – that because we can’t see the virus, because we are not frontline health workers or those sadly in hospital suffering from it, that it all has an unreal quality about it. Perhaps this is part of the reason why some people do not take this pandemic seriously.
Even having seen terrible photos of suffering overseas somehow doesn’t always reach our psyche. The huge numbers infected are just a rolling tally of statistics, and the dreadful ethical decisions that doctors have had to make are thousands of kilometres away, not in our city or our neighbourhood.
The writer Lawrence Durrell claimed in his series, The Alexandria Quartet: “We are the children of our landscape; it dictates behaviour and even thought …”
Our landscape has been one of fortune. We have been a lucky generation, one that apart from the unfortunate souls conscripted to the Vietnam War, have not experienced war.
We have been inoculated against childhood diseases, taken by our parents to health centres to have a six-monthly jab while we howled our eyes out. We have never seen children afflicted with polio, diphtheria, cholera or typhoid, let alone measles outbreaks.
We have taken for granted a health system that is world class.
We have been able to turn shopping into a retail experience, a leisure-time activity that fills in the moments of ennui that engulfs some of us.
We have been a pampered and protected generation. It has been good, and we have embraced with gusto the normal life that has evolved since World War II, an economic good life that most of us have been privileged to enjoy.
But now we have to find patience and a fortitude that previous generations have had to draw on. Push the dissonance away, focus on our homes, where our families and loved ones are. They have not disappeared or gone to war.
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