I asked Mum, “What did you do for a holiday when you were living on the farm”. “Well”, she said, “We never had many holidays. What with draft horses to feed, cows to milk, sheep to check and the chooks to lock up each night, there was always someone needed |at the farm”.
“I do remember one holiday” she said. “I must have been about 12. There was a widespread polio epidemic. Dad packed us all into the Chevy. We had an old
canvas tent, fishing gear, us five kids and Mum. The workman Dad employed stayed at the farm to look after the livestock”. Mum paused, lost in a past memory. “Dad never liked leaving the draft horses overnight. If you lost a draft horse, it was a disaster. They were expensive to replace, then you had to retrain the team.
Mum pauses. “I remember dad drove us to a sand bar on the Murray River, just south of the Tooleybuc bridge. We pitched our tent in the evening and set up camp. We were isolated in that place. We lived on fish and not much else. Dad would return to the farm every couple of days to check on the horses”. Mum later told me Dad had us isolated from contact with others for about three weeks. Lockdown at another time, in another place.
Today’s isolation is different, not self-imposed. It is imposed by others, to benefit the whole community. Were a casual observer to view life at our place today, at first glance, little has changed.
Yet it is not in casual observations that truth emerges. It is in the shape of the conversation. It is a conversation about loss of control, loss of the freedom I once enjoyed and thrived in. Not easily observed. Perhaps it is that sense of being in control, of being in a good space, that is not always obvious.
I can no longer spend time with family and friends as and when I want to, as I have in the past. For all my life, till now, I have contacted people my way, face to face. Those decisions, which were once part of everyday life, taken for granted, without thinking, have changed, suddenly. What I have always done, what was mine to do, when I wanted to, has been outlawed. I can no longer do what I want when I want. This silent pandemic sows confusion, tugs at my mind.
Yet, I understand the why. I agree with the actions of our leaders, to protect the vulnerable, to protect my family, to protect society, and me, an interested member. It is this contradiction, this desire to be free, to do as I want as a law-abiding citizen, is now no longer law abiding. There is no physical change around me. Just something unseen, invisible but ever present, heard through the anguished cries of a loved one lost.
Nothing in my street has changed. Spring has emerged, flowers have broken free to bloom again, birds sing their joy as the warm breath of spring awakens nature, as it always has. The maggies, beaks sharpened stand ready to ambush an unsuspecting passer-by. All around printed in the green of spring are the words ‘normal’. There is no physical enemy, no army marching into town, no destroyed waterfront, no observable conflict, just lives lost as an invisible enemy strikes.
Yet, from within this lockdown hope emerges as sure as the sun rises tomorrow. Just as my mother’s family survived the polio epidemic, returned to their farm as a family to again celebrate a time to sow and a time to reap their harvest, as it will be for us.
However, for some, hope is a distant mirage on another exhausting day, out of reach. Perhaps I take my sense of freedom too much for granted. I complain about being locked down. I talk about being conflicted, not able to do the things I want to do when I want to do them.
I was reminded this week of men, of families, locked away in places of isolation on Christmas Island, and in hotels in Melbourne. They are not free to return to their community, to friends and family. They are called refugees; they live on our doorsteps locked away. I know little of these people. Yet I am part of that silent majority who now, possibly more than ever, have been forced to confront, to sample a small taste of their plight in our detention centres. By their standards, I am a free man. Yet I continue to be conflicted, restrained by lockdown, because, I am not allowed to do what I have always done without thinking, within the law.
Perhaps, just perhaps, Coronavirus is a small penalty for me to pay if it causes me to understand what it means to lose one’s freedom and be powerless. Perhaps the Coronavirus lockdown has opened a small window of hope, as one of those silent majority who feels conflicted by the lockdown, who can no longer ignore the plight of refugees locked down for years on my front doorstep.