Freedom, friends and firm foundations

The past four months of lockdown have done wonders for my arms. Time once spent commuting to the office has been devoted to online beginner’s Pilates and a little bit of weight training. It hasn’t, however, been especially beneficial for my mental health or that of my friends, or of the five million or so other inhabitants of metropolitan Melbourne.

View from behind of a woman lifting weights
Not me

As Melburnians emerge – butterfly-like – from our cocoons, there is one thing on which most of us would agree. Lockdown sucks. The things we took for granted, like freedom of movement, association, touch, were taken from us. The bedrock of our daily lives turned into shifting sands.  

Like many others, I had plans for this year that turned to dust.

One of the less ambitious of them was a weekend on the west coast with three old school friends. We first met as excitable five-year-olds over half a century ago – a preposterous length of time. The four of us have remained close even when at our most geographically distant. Some of us haven’t spoken for a year or two. We can’t even recall how long it’s been since we were in a room together.

A little schoolgirl standing next to a sandpit
One of the excitable five-or-so-year-olds

When coronavirus put an end to our planned weekend away, we replaced it with regular Wednesday evening zoom sessions. Between the four of us, we constitute a cross-section of the Victorian population. Two are regional healthcare providers, two live in metropolitan Melbourne. Of the city dwellers, one works from home and lives with three twenty-something children, the other is retired and living alone.

As lockdown dragged on, what started as a very inferior Plan B took on a hugely disproportionate significance. Our weekly get-togethers – wine optional – were our only regular social contact. They became a lifeline for those of us living alone or just feeling alone.

Self-isolation keeps us safe from infection, but it doesn’t stop the outside world from intruding.

Over the cold and lonely winter months, we all shared in the grief of the loss of a mother, a slow recuperation from eye surgery, the pain of a relationship break-up and the sale of a family home. And interspersed amongst all that sadness were gales of laughter and memories of good times past, and the hope for more in the future.

A zoom meeting on a laptop showing three friends wearing funny hats
Funny hat day

With the recent easing of restrictions has come the reinstatement of our long-anticipated girls’ weekend away. As we look forward to the prospect of breathing the same fresh sea air again, our anticipation is tinged with trepidation. We are having trouble believing that the solid foundation on which we built our pre-pandemic lives will return. But we can at least have faith in the strength of the bond between us. For now, it will be enough to be able to spread those newly toned arms of mine wide and encircle these special women even if it has to be from a safe distance.

This piece first appeared in The Sunday Age on November 15 2020.

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