I never thought I would say this, but I feel rather calm. For almost forty days now we have been in lockdown. In Spain this means that the only legal reasons we can leave home are to purchase food, medicine. I have stepped outside our front door all of seven times in the past month, three times to a nearby food store and four times to bring garbage and recycling to the top of our street. But am I really suffering? Not in the least!
When the lockdown started, we began to frenetically clean our homes, while exchanging ideas on new and productive ways to stay busy. This included all the tasks we had put off forever, like preparing taxes, deleting photos or cleaning the utensil drawer liners. Inevitably, some people got bored with exercise videos or pacing the same circuit around their flats. I mean, how many times can you prance around your living room, tread up and down your stairs or like us do rounds on a 2 x 2 meter terrace without loosing your mind?
Yet, as days have become weeks, everybody seem to have chilled. We are not so worried anymore about what we have accomplished. While we used to count the days and speak about what we would do after this mess was over, most of us have now stopped calculating and planning. If the lockdown must last another month or two, so be it, we just want to be here to see it through. Of course we want to be back to ‘normal’, whatever that will be, but there is no point in agonizing about it. It is like the proverbial watched pot that never boils. The same is true about the lockdown, it won’t end any sooner if we sit and stare at the clock.
Relatively speaking a month inside is nada. “People complain about being at home for a few weeks”, said a 96-year-old woman who spent three years in a well (!) hiding from the Nazis, and two years starving in the Warsaw ghetto. Some Spanish republicans wanted dead or alive during the Spanish Civil War spent three decades hiding, until finally there was a public amnesty for their ‘war crimes’ in 1969. We are speaking about thirty years! Therefore, when the news mentions the psychological problems that people will have from being enclosed, I wonder what the world has come to. People are certainly justified in feeling concerned and even afraid of what is happening, but being forced to be at home is no real hardship. We are not in hiding. Most of us have every conceivable comfort. We can move around freely in our homes, open windows and doors and chat with friends and family in countless wireless manners.
Everything we go through in life is a chance to learn. My mother, who grew up with five years of German occupation, says she is grateful that she lived through the war. It taught her to value what matters. Like battling a virus, wars also bring out the true nature of people. It is sometimes surprising who turn out to be the brave ones. Hopefully we will remember the pandemic’s unsung heroes, such as street cleaners, assembly line workers, bus drivers, shelf stockers and cashiers.
Most days our entire neighbourhood are in pyjamas and sweatpants. Who cares! If we are going to be at home anyhow, we might as well be comfortable…
Yet this extended PJ party can have some unfortunate side effects. We generally associate being at home with weekends and holidays, when we normally indulge in more treats. But the lockdown is not a holiday – it is a national emergency. Of course we should try to make the best out of the situation, but we cannot continue to celebrate living for another day during weeks and months without repercussions. If we believe that we deserve to treat ourselves continuously because we are ‘suffering’ at home, we are in for a rude awakening.
The first and foremost concern during such a crisis is not catching the virus, but the second concern should therefore be how to remain as healthy as possible. Some researchers say that the average Spaniard will gain five kilos during the lockdown. Though this number might be arbitrary, many will come out of ‘hiding’ in worse shape than ever. Consumption of alcoholic beverages has increased notably nationwide. Bread purchases (and home baking) is up 200% and there is a huge boom in junk food sales. The 10 most frequently Googled recipes in Spain these days are cookies, lasagne, pancakes and the king of comfort foods – rice pudding. This doesn’t bode well for the future.
Spanish health authorities have expressed particular concern for the country’s younger population, who now are given more treats and TV concessions than under normal circumstances, as parents try to appease their bored and fidgety offspring. Such instant gratification will backfire, as the more sugary teats the kids get, the more hyperactive they become. I know that it isn’t easy to entertain children and assure that everyone gets their daily exercise if one lives in a small flat, but necessity is the mother of invention.
As we enter week five of lockdown, I am not climbing the walls, like I usually do when I am homebound with even a 24-hour flu. The longer this lasts, the less I want to go out. We limit our food shopping to once a week and eating to twice a day (more than sufficient if one considers my all-time-low daily step count of 39). We avoid excessive news watching, nurturing ourselves by reading instead. If we cannot go places, we can always travel in our minds. With the books I am reading at the moment I am magically teleported to 1970’s Yemen and 1840’s Mexico. Is there any wonder that I dream about being an absentminded antihero at night?
When I walked to the shop the other day, I noticed how rapidly spring had advanced while we have been inside. Yet I don’t consider it a lost season. This time-out is giving us a chance to reflect on what is important in life and to gain knowledge in new areas. As I communicate with friends from LA to Delhi, we all express the same concerns and have the same wishes for the future. We share the same destiny. Neither the Chinese nor the WHO is to blame for what has happened. It is not as simple as that. We all over-consumed, over-lived and over-travelled. We must all change.
An unfamiliar calmness has descended upon the world. The rain is pouring down today. Normally I would call it a ‘bad day’, but this is no longer the case. From inside our home I watch the shifting skies and embrace weather changes without judgement. I would love to go out and feel the rain on my face or hike every mountain I can see in the distance, but for now I am more than content with walking unhurried meditative laps around the terrace table.