This week – our second in almost total lockdown – I have felt a little like Janus, the Roman god of duality and transitions, of the past and of the future, and who is usually depicted looking both ways at once.
By far the greater part of my week has been spent enclosed in a very twenty-first century online world. My only direct human contact has been with Mr Blue-Shirt and the brief exchanges I have had with a handful of shop assistants at the supermarket, the latter conducted from behind surgical masks. The rest of the time it has been by screen and keyboard, webcam and microphone, both for keeping up to date colleagues and teaching online lessons. Conversations have been dominated by uploads and backups, downloads and workarounds, screen sharing and embedding; by Facebook and WhatsApp, by Zoom and by Skype; by IWBs and VLEs, by 121s and F2Fs – along with quite a lot of FFSs and WTFs.
It has been by turns uplifting and frustrating, satisfying and confusing, entertaining and infuriating, comforting and overwhelming. It is not yet a world where I feel entirely at home, where I feel comfortable in my virtual skin. So when that niggling sense of disorientation and overload has become impossible to ignore, I’ve signed off, logged out and re-grounded myself in the comfort and familiarity of the physical, of the timeless and the permanent. I’ve tugged on my leggings and laced up my trainers and headed out into the fresh air to reconnect with the reality and timelessness of the natural world.
By the way, I know we are in quarantine, but along our quiet lanes, even should I catch sight of another person – invariably one of our neighbours working in their garden – there is no difficulty maintaining the obligatory one-metre’s social distancing. In fact, never mind a metre: it is seldom any less than just waving distance and barely close enough to call out a quick neighbourly greeting. So I remain content that in maintaining and protecting my own well-being, I am acting within the rules and putting no one else at risk.
Sooner or later almost every day I’ve found myself craving the sensation of the sun on my skin, the breeze in my hair; longing to drink in the sound of birdsong and the scent of new flowers, the sight of buds bursting and leaves unfurling. The significance of these unfailing, irrefutable, almost clichéd symbols of rebirth, regrowth, and recovery has seldom seemed greater in these fear-filled times of disease and death. As ever, when the world weighs heavily on my shoulders, it is going for a run that allows me to recalibrate, to restore balance and perspective. And running in the soothing Marchigian landscape brings an additional breadth to that perspective. For it is such a timeless landscape whose features have altered little for generations. These gentle hills and valleys, vineyards, fields and olive groves, the mighty mountains and even the glittering sea have all borne witness to drought and deluge, fire and famine, earthquake, war and occupation – and have withstood the lot. It is a landscape that has endured and recovered, that has provided food and sustained communities for centuries, that has continued to shift from past to present to future in an infinite cycle of renewal – and so that never fails to remind me that ‘this too shall pass’.
And it is this above all that eases my spirit and calms my mood and enables me to return to my other, virtual world, refreshed and restored and ready to confront the next wave of daily challenges that quarantine will bring.