How our world has narrowed

Do any of you have a phrase or an expression that has stuck in your head over time? I have one and I thought I had the context and the meaning right. But I was wrong.

The phrase is “the world contracted thus”. I knew it came from John Donne, the English poet, so before I wrote this, I looked it up. It comes from a poem called The Sun Rising and it contains that line, speaking about his relationship with his lover and how their relationship was their world, the centre of their being. We all probably know that feeling when we have fallen head over heels in love or lust.

However, I had completely gotten the wrong end of the stick, falsely associating it with the narrowing of our horizons as we age, our reluctance to take on new challenges or travel as we become older and less physically capable. Our world contracts to the pitiful four walls of our nursing home, was often the bleak, pessimistic picture I had in my mind. But now I see it applying in a different way to our new paradigm.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, so many of our routines have been thrown into the air and life seems to have contracted into a few narrow routines and expectations.

We now no longer dress to go to work, sitting in our track pants and Ugg boots, with the occasional business shirt or white blouse on the top, trying to look professional in our Zoom meetings. Our lovely clothes hang forlornly in the wardrobe, wondering when they will be aired and worn again. Buying new active wear over the internet just isn’t the same as the thrill of purchasing a new outfit and knowing when and where we can wear it in public.

As the weather has turned cold and we go for a walk, we wear our puffer jackets, layer upon layer of clothing so that we are unrecognisable, not a chance to flirt or even know who we pass in the street. We are masked, covered up, with no make-up or lipstick to be seen, a vestige of our former selves.

Our conversations become the same with a few close friends we ring up and we constantly say, “I haven’t got much news” and we really mean it this time, rather than just being overly polite. And what news do we have? It takes a strong optimist or a person in denial to convert a lockdown scenario into a raging social life.

We seem to be back to focusing on the very basics of life. “What’s for dinner?” is a question I find myself asking my friends over the phone. I relish hearing what others are making and find myself gaining inspiration from others. My friends and I salivate over each other’s meals and eating has taken on a new joy and pleasure.

Time has contracted and expanded at the same time, a seemingly impossible feat. A week has seemed like a month and a day has vanished with little achieved. Maybe this would be a good time to read a Stephen Hawking book on the relativity of time, but my grasp of theoretical physics is poor to say the least.

Perhaps this contracting of our world will end up being a good thing, a chance to regroup, figure out what we value and who we want to spend our precious time with when our wings are no longer clipped.

Maybe I will remember accurately in future the context of the words of the poem. Maybe …

How are you coping in these socially straitened times? Are meal times a highlight of the day?

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