Maintaining a low bar in lockdown

Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.

Alexander Pope

On October 6th, 1727, English poet Alexander Pope wrote these words in a letter to a friend. Almost 300 years later, his words sum up perfectly the attitude of many Melburnians after two months of stage four lockdown.

No one knows better than us the crushing disappointment of unfulfilled expectations.

As we nervously await this Sunday’s announcement of possible easing of restrictions, ours is a very low bar. The last round saw little change for metropolitan Melbourne. Curfew may have been lifted, but with entertainment venues closed and visits to friends banned for all but single people living alone, there is nothing much to keep us out after 9pm.

And yet… Gazing through my window to the deserted street beyond, I can’t help but contemplate what Sunday’s press conference might bring. I can almost feel the sparkling warm sand of a northern NSW beach between my toes. My thoughts take flight, landing in the cobbled streets of a familiar French town, before I catch myself and reign them in.

I dial down my imagination to something slightly more attainable: the taste of my first café-bought flat white served in a china cup in six months. No sipping through plastic from a cardboard cup.

Coffee in a china cup with a knight on a horse drawn in the froth on top

No having to search for the magic word ‘recyclable’ before disposing of it.

The roadside bins are already overflowing with paper cups – the evidence of other ambulant coffee-sippers taking comfort in the company of a friend the only legal way possible. Walking, always walking. Catching a glimpse of each other’s faces only long enough for the cup to drain before restoring masks to their proper place covering nose and chin.

Cloth or disposable, two layers or three, hooked over the ears or around the back of the head, tight fitting or loose. No matter the mask, they all muffle speech. Making ourselves understood while wearing one is a challenge.

The faces of two women wearing masks

Oh how I long to throw that mask as far from me as my newly-toned arms can muster. (The one positive to come from all that walking – apart from general fitness – is that the accompanying occasional arm flex of a half kilogram hand weight has given my arms their first hint of definition in a very long time. That low bar leads to the discovery of silver linings in the most obscure of clouds.)

The last round of easing of restrictions – although minimal – had me raising those toned arms of mine in triumph.

It was announced that a maximum of five people from two households could gather outdoors. For almost two weeks now, we have been able to see the unencumbered faces of friends as we sit – sit! – on the grass across from each other, masks off and smiles from ear to ear. Delighted just to be within touching distance, even if we can’t give way to the impulse to throw our arms around each other. Happy just to be in each other’s company at last.

Image of a park where small groups of unmasked people are gathered on the grass

This Sunday, we’ve been promised something. Not much, but something. I find myself daydreaming about being allowed to visit one friend. Just one. Not on a walk, or in a park, or in the supermarket queue. In their home.

But honestly, I’d be happy just to be allowed to travel more than five kilometres from home. To be able to buy my favourite mayonnaise from the deli five suburbs away. To eat a sandwich on a park bench 1.5 metres away from the best friend I haven’t seen in months. That would be wonderful.

That low bar has some advantages after all.

Postscript: The Premier’s much anticipated Sunday announcement has extended the travel radius to 25 km from home. So I can buy that special mayonnaise and have a sandwich with my best friend. I can’t visit her in her home and nor can she visit me in mine. But if the numbers stay down, the good people of Melbourne may be able to sip coffee from a china cup in a cafe within two weeks. And from this distance – seven months since cafes were first closed for all but takeaway service – that seems nothing short of a miracle. That low bar has just gone up a notch.

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