My husband peered for a closer look at my phone. “You’re kidding, right?” But no, what he saw was real. There was a picture of a Facebook friend, posing in a red ballgown with her wheelie bin. She was dressing up for rubbish day.
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages around the world, the resulting lockdown in South Africa is making us all do things a little differently. “The new normal” is what it’s been dubbed as. Like your two-year-old daughter screaming in the background during a work conference call. There are days when I think it’s bringing out the worst in us. While teaching some of my creative writing pupils online, I asked them how they were coping. Stephen said matter-of-factly, “We are all going crazy slowly.” With a special emphasis on the word “slowly”. I thought that pretty much summed it up.
The day I hit the wall – along with all three of my kids – was probably the worst. Three weeks into the lockdown, we had finally reached our limit. And the fact that our confinement was being extended by another two weeks didn’t help – we all wanted so badly to escape. The Groundhog Day effect was getting to us. Only my husband managed to avert the crisis, but I think it left me realising I needed to realign my life if I was going to survive not weeks – but months – of lockdown.
My friend Kelly told me how her mother comes up with a list at the beginning of each day. Then she gets to the end of her day and it feels as if she’s gone backwards. I can relate. Sometimes it takes me the whole day to hang up a load of laundry. I keep trying to do it and the more I try, the longer it takes. The lethargy is draining. You just want to do something – anything! – to feel productive. Something to take up the hours and hours of time. Our neighbour took the whole afternoon making fifty pieces of ravioli for her family. I turn to baking for therapy – and my family gains the rewards (and extra calories).
My daughter used to ask me every day, “When are we going to school?” My heart would break seeing her expectant, upturned face. Then I had to break the news to her, “Not today, sweetie.” No school, no granny, no church. Not for a while, anyway. Now she’s so used to it, she doesn’t ask me anymore.
At the start of the lockdown, I made it my goal to be thankful. “Thank God for something every day as you wake up,” another friend, Jutta, advised. So I do. Small things, big things. I thank him for a special moment I shared with one of my children or the roses flowering in our garden. Or the fact that we have an income and don’t have to worry about food. I thank him most of all that I am not alone. As crazy as living with a family of five is in a semi-detached house, I would not want to be on my own at a time like this.
Much of this season of lockdown has been spent re-evaluating my life. Sometimes I’ve had to confront painful patterns that I see in me that I know only God can change. Like wanting to always be perfect, the performance trap. I wonder how much of my life I’ve been living to please others instead of dwelling in God’s love and acceptance. A scripture that has sustained me is from Isaiah: “In repentance and rest is your salvation. In quietness and trust is your strength.”
My prayer is that we emerge from this lockdown – and already we are emerging, thanks to restrictions having eased under Level Four – having changed. The protagonist of every story embarks on a quest to get what he wants, pays a price to get it and then returns to his original starting point having changed. Just as the drought two years ago in the Western Cape changed us, making us save water instead of wasting it, I hope this lockdown makes us cut out everything in our lives that is empty and hollow.
I hope that we will get off the treadmill of work, eat, sleep and find the things that really make us come alive. That we would ask ourselves honestly who or what are we living for – and make the necessary adjustments to enable us to live more fully and meaningfully. And like a lot of other Capetonians, I’m looking forward to walking on the beach again.