As indisputably reckless and inexcusably selfish as it is for people to travel to their holiday homes during lockdown (#stayhomeNZ), on some level I understand the urge. Waiting it out somewhere distant, surrounded by mountains with a view of the sea, until somebody else makes the problem go away, makes some of the big fear dissolve and wash up on a beach somewhere as harmless clouds of sea foam… it’s understandable to want an escape.
From our bubbles, without our daily distractions - our routines, compulsions, fleeting obsessions - the cracks in our system are so gaping; the inequalities in our country and in those overseas so pronounced. Children in poverty, victims of domestic violence, people in incarceration, workers of the gig economy… if not affected directly or indirectly ourselves, we can’t escape noticing these issues now that we’re all sequestered indoors with only screens to tell us of the happenings of the world at large. And for many, there’s little we can do about the situation because being in our bubble is the safest and bravest and best thing. But the feeling of helplessness, the loss of control (or the stripping away of our fragile delusions around how much autonomy we really do have in times like these)... they’re maybe some of the most uncomfortable and terrifying parts of this pandemic.
As an essential worker, I’ve felt immensely lucky to have been able to keep working, though the anxiety on the wards is palpable. What if we get infected with SARS-CoV-2? Or if we’re asymptomatic with it and spread it among our vulnerable patients? To our families? Do we really have enough reserves of PPE? What will happen if our course follows the path of London, New York, Spain or Italy? (Thankfully, our numbers look very promising!). We’re health professionals; we’re hyper-aware of the statistics - the suffering endured in these epicentres where the virus has overwhelmed healthcare systems. It’s the last thing we want for Aotearoa.
Despite the fact that our hospitals, and our country, have been preparing for what might come with a never-ending stream of COVID-19 updates, PPE training sessions, talks about tactical roster changes, more updates, Q&A panels, policy changes, more updates (‘Zoom’ is officially my least favourite verb of the English language)... this hasn’t done much to wipe out my worries. I’m a bit of a worrier by nature, and I quieten my brain by running. It’s a coping mechanism I discovered in my early twenties after reading about Haruki Murakami’s experience of long-distance running. In one of my favourite essays, Sarah Jane Barnett writes “Running allowed me to belong in my body, and it’s a home that cannot be taken away.”
I don’t intend to wax-poetic about running because there’s nothing particularly poetic about the way I run. I’m not particularly graceful or particularly fast (in fact, when I shared my last half marathon pace with a usually very kind and soft spoken registrar, he laughed and said incredulously “isn’t that walking speed”?). I don’t have a consistent routine. I don’t have an exercise playlist, though sometimes I’ll listen to an audiobook or a podcast. I stop often - mostly to look at and make recordings of birds on my phone: tui with their boisterous spurts of noise, their curious clicks and cackles; a matuku (white-faced heron) making its way slowly but deliberately around the perimeter of a local bay.
But each time I lace up my pink trainers and head outdoors, I run as and towards a constant: that soothing familiarity of physical movement, that trust that my muscles know how to go through these motions, all while the world around me changes and is changed.Support Villainesse