Imagine: a trip overseas, a drink with friends, a much-needed haircut. All these pursuits are now possible. Summer has arrived along with its team sports, outdoor performances, barbeques, picnics and ice creams.
Panic buying is over and spirits are brightening as people come together and share stories of lockdown, as if it’s an event of the past. Life is – it seems – returning to an approximation of ‘normal’. Even traffic is once again a thing.
Now, imagine the elderly woman still alone in her home because she is ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’. Sometimes she goes for a week without seeing a single soul. She is sharp as a whip and is aware that isolation is making her frailty worse and her mind slow down.
Imagine, too, the man who works in the supermarket. He’s scared for his father who has underlying health issues and depends on him. Shops are now busier and shoppers are more relaxed – many do not wear face masks and some get too close. The man knows he is lucky to have work, yet he also knows that he needs to keep himself and his father safe.
There are many more people we could imagine: the woman who is paralysed by her fear of catching coronavirus. She prefers to play it safe and stay cooped up in her flat, despite her friends’ reassurances. Or the man who is beset by concerns about a different disease, but doesn’t want to burden the medics. Or the young couple worried about their future now that both are unemployed.
And imagine the abused children who suffered in silence long before COVID-19 was a headline. They still do.
The pandemic has allowed strong characteristics to flourish. The kind that are “the best in people”.
Volunteer-based initiatives have been welcomed far and wide, and we have innovated and adapted in life-affirming ways (some of which we may want to keep). And the accelerated laser-like focus on key issues has been hard but necessary. Many are waking up to problems which have lingered under the radar for too long.
The story of the pandemic is messy and ongoing.
Lockdown is easing (for now) but there is no vaccine yet. We have to learn how to accommodate the disease and remember to stay connected.
Busier streets render those locked behind front doors more invisible still. Let’s listen to the woman – so aware of her vulnerability – when she wonders, without a shred of self-pity, whether she will outlast the pandemic. And look behind the smile of the man at the checkout as he serves you and thinks of his father.
The world needs characters like these more than ever. Ones who will lead us and not leave people behind. Ones who will remember that others are vulnerable.
The opportunities to choose empathy today are greater than ever.