Dear South African,
Some of you take life’s trials in your stride and choose not to be sunk by the wave rather to ride it out. I wish I could pick up my surfboard like you!
By contrast, each day when I open my eyes, I feel a sinking despair. The nightmare is not over. No matter what I do or how I try, I can’t wake up and make the fear go away. It’s something that I can’t dwell on for too long otherwise I feel to overwhelmed. I am a worrier!
We see the wave differently. Some see it as a tsunami, grab what’s important and run for cover. Others, undaunted, get ready for the ride. Both face the inevitable.
Likewise, when the president addresses the nation, some curse the address and flick off the television in disgust. Some keep it on, muttering as he speaks. Some listen and take the things they think are reasonable and others are prepared to obey the regulations to the letter.
When our Whatsapp pings moments after the words, I thank you, there are similar responses – some click at the regulations, some roll their eyes, some find a few reasonable and some not, and still others, feel like a prison sentence will be their lot if they do anything but obey.
I am the worrier, the obeyer and the rule keeper. I have done my best to stay within the rules and I am realising that our numbers are few. On the first day we were allowed out was the last time I didn’t wear a mask beyond the boundary. My parents (whom I saw at least twice a week) live 600m down the road. My mom-in-law lives 400m up the road. We have not stepped into each other’s houses since 26th March 2020. We walk together, that’s all. Likewise, I have not stepped into anyone else’s house for almost 4 months.
Some don’t understand. Some think we’re crazy. Some shake their heads at us. Allow me to let you into the mind of someone who has been black-and-white all her life.
I have always been a people-pleaser and rule-keeper. I have a conscience that gives me a good slap on the back of the head if I do otherwise. I agonise over my disobedience and guilt smothers me for hours if not days. If I upset or hurt someone – the same. I struggle with legalism and doing anything other than the letter of the law is something that is a real battle for me. This induces another real problem. I am exceptionally judgemental of anyone who does anything other than obey. Am I always right? No. Do I mess up? Absolutely! But it is jarring to see others taking no heed of the law. And that is putting it mildly!
I toss between complete faith in humanity and then to complete skepticism. One morning, as I sat in my bedroom looking across the valley during Level 5, I watched a couple walk down to their gate at the bottom of their garden that opened onto the forest. They unlatched it and I sat tense, silently willing them to stay inside. But out bounded their dogs and I began to shake my head in disgust as I thought that I was about to witness deliberate defiance. But they stopped. They watched their dogs take their regular jaunt through the long grass from their boundary line, standing on rocks in their garden to keep an eye on them. Then, after a few minutes, they went back inside and left the dogs to return in their own time through the open gate.
I welled up. They didn’t know I was watching them. They could have easily slipped among the trees “without anyone knowing”. But they didn’t. They upheld the law even when there was no one to watch them. And, people, that spoke volumes to me!
Conversely, I frequently walk around the neighbourhood and see all manner of people walking without masks. I watch those in the houses that surround me opening their gates for their friends.
And, if I’m honest, I haven’t only judged. I’ve been livid! I have been so angry, it’s consumed me.
But lately, it’s broken me. The anger, although lingering, has not been what has been at the forefront.
It’s the heartache. It’s left me feeling empty. Sick to the core. Hollow. And heartsore.
I have ached to see my family. It went from just missing seeing their faces to a physical pain. I’ve grieved the loss of months. I’ve been reduced to tears not knowing when we’ll next eat a meal together at the same table, laze in the sun with a cup of tea or watch them hug my children.
Instead, I go out and watch you hug your family. Instead, I hear you laughing around a braai with your friends. Instead, I watch you cycling, jogging, pushing prams unmasked with those not in your immediate family. Simply put, it hurts.
I know some of you may think we are crazy to not see our family. Think what you will. But know every day that you see yours, is a day longer that I don’t get to see mine. This virus won’t go anywhere if people are not actively committed to fighting it. Each day you choose to go against regulations, to not wear a mask because you are “claustrophobic” or “can’t breathe” is another day I have to stand with my children far away from their grandparents’ aching arms. Each time you choose to disregard the law because it’s “inconvenient”, “stupid” or “inconsistent” is another, long day I watch my mom cry. Each time you curse these “ridiculous regulations” is yet another day our parents miss yet another milestone – first steps, a birthday, first words.
Because every time you choose to go out without a mask or visit someone else, the virus has a field day. And, trust me, everyone who has caught the virus said, “We’ll be fine!” or “Not me.”
What will it take for you to realise that this is about other people too? Will it take contracting COVID-19 to see that this isn’t some conspiracy theory? Will it take being asymptomatic but passing it onto your parents who end up in ICU? Will it take saying goodbye to a loved one over a Whatsapp call? Will it take leaving your wife to labour on her own because you can’t be in the delivery room? Will it take having to leave your young child at the hospital with a concussion after falling out a tree because you aren’t allowed to stay?
What will it take for you to realise that it’s not about comfort and convenience? What will it take for you to understand that others are suffering as a result of careless behaviour?
If you care, as many of you may say you do, flip it around and imagine it were you. Maybe if it affected you directly, you would live differently.
So, fellow South African, this is an appeal. I am asking, no, begging you to show love to those who are trying to stay safe. An inconvenience to save a life. A irritation to free up an ICU bed. A night in to free up a ward. A canceled play-date to prevent a feverish week or few. A distanced walk with loved ones instead of a braai to spare a thought for those who may be crying silently because they watch you do what their heart aches to do. A little love makes the world a happier place for everyone.
“Paying it forward”, “Love not hate”,”Love your neighbour as yourself” are phrases tossed around flippantly in society. But, let’s imagine a world full of people who, selflessly, make the conscious choice, the unnatural choice, the hard choice every day, to put others needs first. It does not come naturally to me. My default is to do what is comfortable, easy and self-fulfilling. Maybe I am the only one who opens my eyes each day wanting to do life according to my agenda but I suspect not. It does not come naturally to me to bite my tongue instead of lashing out at every unmasked person on the road. It does not come naturally to not dwell on my jealous, resentful thoughts. It does not come naturally to me to stand at my parents’ gate instead of slipping inside to have a quick cup of tea. It’s darn hard and painful. But health is paramount here. So, hard as it may be, we need to keep our distance.
This letter to you is to ask you to do two basic things. Please be respectful to others by wearing a mask. Please socially distance to curb the spread. The numbers are rising because people are being careless and flippant. If everyone did just those two things, I think we’d be managing this virus. Lockdown levels would ease as the cases dropped. Dare I say, we’d be allowed to open up our “bubble” to include a few more people?
Some have said that we can’t live like this forever. We can’t. Apart from the already crippled economy, people would simply go insane! Some have said that we should just open things up so that we can get it over with. It sounds good in theory. But hospital beds are limited. It’s a good idea until there isn’t a bed for you.
But…each day longer is a day closer to a vaccine. Each day longer, we learn more about the virus. Each day we mask up and social distance not isolate is another person not infected.
I know the inevitable will happen. People will get sick. But, let’s not do it all together. Let’s flatten the curve. Let’s be considerate and responsible. Let love spread instead of COVID.
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