“‘Focus on the things you can control’: how to cope with radical uncertainty” – that was definitely a headline I was going to click four days into this crazy new world of Lockdown NZ.
I was rewarded with a bit of practical psychology that reinforced the conclusion I had already come to about how to cope with the “new” normal. Keep busy. Keep busy no matter what.
It’s an idea that has been pretty universally adopted as Kiwis go about various household DIY projects, spring clean (in autumn), garden, bake up a storm (judging by the lack of flour in stores), find ways to occupy or entertain the kids, exercise and whatever else it takes to keep occupied and certain thoughts at bay.
The abrupt changes have come with some compensations. Tamahere local Venetia Sherson emailed with these “heart-warming observations on our community in the past week:
1. Bird sounds much more audible on empty streets (plus donkeys and roosters)
2. Someone has set up a fitness course on Birchwood Lane with instructions about when and where to do push-ups and squats
3. Many more families out walking and bike riding around Tamahere, all of us giving each other a wide berth.
4. Fewer planes in the skies.
5. Check-ins with neighbours across the fence.
“We are walking our streets every day. It’s fascinating and rewarding to see some beautiful homes and gardens popping up,” she concluded.
Here at TeForum HQ, we’ve created Gateside Cafe – strictly byo drink, eats and chair – and everyone maintaining a 2m separation. But for a few minutes we can sit on adjoining driveways and the roadside verge and natter in the sun to someone other than our own bubble residents.
We’re not quite as far apart as St Stephen’s Tamahere church members, who took part in last Sunday’s service from their individual homes, conducted according to content and timing instructions emailed by Vicar Sue Burns. It included singing along to hymns on YouTube.
Online access is everyone’s saviour now. Skype, Zoom, HouseParty, Netflix, Facebook and more are all getting a thorough workout now.
Our family’s WhatsApp group continues to connect us across the world, daily bringing observations, challenges, photos and videos of our doings, reports of forays to the supermarket and the all important love and support.
Other groups are connecting the same way. My (suspended) biking group shares their now solo efforts. And walking, running and riding the area has become a real pleasure. Without speeding cars to monster them biking is so safe mums and dads are taking young kids out on the roads.
The wildlife is getting a reprieve, too. Ducks, hens and pukeko are making ever more bold forays on the road verge without the danger of becoming roadkill.
When a pause comes in the busy-ness it’s generally the 1pm reality check – the daily media conference where we learn from Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield how many new Covid-19 cases have been detected in the previous 24 hours, what regions they are in, the state of health of the virus’s victims, who, if anyone, has died (sadly, on March 29 NZ’s first death was that of Greymouth grandmother Anne Guenole, 73) and how many people have recovered.
Then it’s more activity until the return to the Beehive theatre for the Prime Minister’s 3pm media conference – to learn what’s been tweaked in all this tumble of new rules and regulations, which essential services are in or out, does NZ or does NZ not have enough PPE (personal protective equipment), who might be price-gouging on chickens or broccoli, and whether this butcher shop or that cafe is going to get a growling from the PM or visit from the Police.
The days are settling into a new rhythm. It won’t last. Thankfully. Though, of course, the big, nagging and disturbing questions are how long and what’s next.
It’s time to return to that article on coping with radical uncertainty.
It quotes author CS Lewis in 1939, talking about the impact of World War II. “The war creates no absolutely new situation,” he said. “It simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice… We are mistaken when we compare war with ‘normal life’. Life has never been normal.”
Not all that comforting right? But the next paragraph might be.
“In this time of acute collective anxiety, this sort of insight might not bring much peace of mind on its own,” writes Guardian columnist Oliver Burkeman.
“But it is a crucial first step, because it suggests that something about our gut-churning feelings of helplessness – the sense that we’re facing an absolutely horrible, unprecedented emergency, which we’ll surely lack the personal resilience to cope with – isn’t wholly accurate. And it implies that we might be much better than we think at dealing with radical uncertainty – because in fact, every hour of every day, we already do.”
Apparently, people, we’ve got this. Trust yourself. Trust your whanau, your community, New Zealand. We can do this.