I finally ventured out today. It’s hard to accept how much the world has changed in such a short period of time. I revisited places where I used to hang out, places suddenly emptied of people. Those I did run into had the same cautious look in their eye, as if to say, don’t come too close, we’re not quite sure if you’re friend or foe.
No matter where I went, people were saying the same thing: we’re unsure about the future; yes, we’re surviving right at this minute, but tomorrow? Next week? Next month? This afternoon? Who knows! We can only take things one day at a time. If there’s one thing we all have in common right now, it’s uncertainty, unknowing, and genuine fear about what might happen next.
There’s something else we have in common—the realisation that the structures of power we thought were there to keep us safe might not be up to the task; that perhaps we can’t rely on the people making decisions; that we can’t call on allies this time; that the old order of things is not what it was and that we are, in fact, alone.
Something else I heard people saying: where is God in this? I didn’t have an answer for them—which is another change. The cafe where I used to work would, once upon a time, have been a place of robust discussion about such questions: people of faith talking animatedly and with such confidence about their relationship with God, the surety of their hope, the vision God had given them for this country and for the world. Now? None of that. In its place: Where is God? Has he abandoned us? Was he ever real in the first place? Is this yet another self-delusion we have to own up to?
At least we have family, right? I thought so. But it’s not the case for everyone. There are single mothers out there with limited resources. There are couples whose lives were under enormous pressure even before this crisis. And now? Things are unbearable. Others are bunkered down and waiting for worse to come, which of course it will. They’ve become acutely aware that, ultimately, they only have each other.
Some don’t even have that. Their family has gone. Worrying about family under your care is one thing; worrying about children, parents, sisters and brothers who have gone overseas, seeking a better life, is something else. Who knows where they are? Are they safe? Are they well? Who will they go to when things get worse? Have we seen the people we love for the last time?
There is only one thing I know for sure. Life will never be the same again. If we get through this—and I am no longer convinced that all of us will—life will change forever. This came upon us in an instant—and yet suddenly it is the new normal. Everything I took for granted has been turned upside down.
The most confronting thing I encountered today was the widespread surrender across the community to the realisation that regardless of what happens next, there is no going back to the way of life we all loved and thought would be here forever. Life will change, and then change again. But things will never be what they were.