I’ve been on to my solicitor to draft a certificate setting out why I should be saved when the Great Triage comes.
I can’t think of a single reason off the top of my head but he’ll come up with something. He’s good. He’s expensive. I want the document on me when I’m wheeled into ICU.
Meanwhile, we wait. Those who matter most to us are putting their lives at risk on the frontline. Politicians are frantic. The media is in overdrive. But the rest are part of a waiting nation.
Some of us wait at home. Some in queues. In Redfern this week, the line waiting for Centrelink to open went all the way up the street, a disciplined queue, each citizen a little apart, sitting on milk crates and cradling takeaway coffee.
God bless the milk crate, there for us in good times and bad – to gawp at Mardi Gras or disarm a killer rampaging round the Sydney CBD and now the crates are indispensable as we queue, perhaps endlessly, for help.
Strange how old-fashioned the responses are to this new-fangled intruder in our lives. We’re washing our hands. Grandmothers are cutting hair again. Rolled oats are in short supply. One of my in-laws is selling chooks at $35 each.
What’s happening is clear: the virus is taking us back to our childhoods. But a word of caution. The happy memory of hens in the garden and fresh eggs for breakfast doesn’t survive much scrutiny. I know. I fed the buggers. It means a lot of work with never enough eggs. How I loved the sight of my father at the chopping block killing the chooks too old to lay.
Pity he won’t be round when all this is over. There will be work. But when will that time come? We haven’t a clue. The most remarkable thing about these remarkable times is having so little idea when and where this story will take us. Its arc is a mystery.
The virus is reminding us how much time and energy we spend predicting the future. We do it automatically. And despite the twists and turns that catch us off guard, we humans are pretty good at working out what’s coming down the track. It’s how we survive.
But not this time.
That’s why the virus has overwhelmed the news cycle. With the future so uncertain we can’t tear ourselves away. We keep reading and watching and listening though the story wasn’t different this morning and will be the same tomorrow – the same yet new.
Mind you, the old are beginning to tire. “I’m so sick of the news,” a celebrated whinger raged at me the other day. “Twenty-five minutes of coronavirus and then the weather. It’s not enough. What about a murder every now and again …”
The mysteries of the future are throwing politics in the air. Politics divides over the best way to deal with reasonably predictable outcomes. Politicians and commentators throw the words unprecedented around all the time. But it’s rarely justified. Now it is.
Politicians are feeling their way forward into the unknown. Old divisions are all but meaningless. There’s no left or right way to approach this catastrophe. There’s only doing it badly or getting it right.
So we’re seeing an extraordinary sight I can’t remember in my lifetime: conservative governments making radical choices and spending huge sums of money to address a national crisis.
How trivial this makes the politics of the last decade seem, all those years conservatives spent blocking solutions to that other great challenge we face. It’s too expensive to do anything about climate change, they said. Too daring. Too disruptive. So they deliberately pursued the politics of logjam.
But now the purse is open. Extraordinary demands are being made of the country. And perhaps, in the end, it will work. The great lesson of the coronavirus may well be that we have it within our grasp to address and solve the problems of this country.
That would change Australia, a nation that’s grown increasingly pessimistic over recent years about the possibilities of politics and increasingly reluctant to demand political solutions to the problems we face in the future.
Perhaps the culture wars might be abandoned at the same time out of sheer pointlessness. It’s sweet to see the panic merchants of the media – those who revved up the nation about refugees and Indigenous land rights and transgender kids and the high price of doing anything about climate change – urging calm in the face of the virus, calm and trust in the government.
We wait. One day we will tell stories about being there when handshaking stopped; when we held our breath passing people in the street; when cruise ships roamed the seas; when the Minister for Keeping Out Foreign Contagion came down with the bug; and, for a couple of days, Bondi beach was closed while Crown Casino stayed open.
We all have friends waiting on milk crates and know grandparents in exile from their families. With dry coughs and breathlessness, the pandemic has also brought loneliness and, of course, ruin everywhere.
The business of a woman I know has gone kaput and 15 employees are facing the sack. She’s a big figure in her trade. She’s always grown vegetables as a hobby but you should see her garden now. It’s never been so planted, weeded and fed. It’s a picture.
Over the road, friends of friends are hunkered down for a fortnight’s self-isolation. The prisoners sit with their little girl in the doorway and their families gather at the gate. They bring picnic chairs and, of course, takeaway coffee.
They’re learning not to kiss and hug. It isn’t easy. Worse, we all find, is learning to stand a little apart. It feels so awkward, so cold, so wrong.
A woman known for her extreme attitudes on a number of fronts has stood apart rather dramatically by retreating to the remote hinterland of Canberra where she is running her business from a tent pitched in a paddock. “From here,” she explained, “I get line of sight to the Telstra tower.”
There’s a reassuring lesson for capitalism here. From that great distance, even though they are scattered to their own homes, she is still able to terrify her staff.
I’m working from home as I always have. As usual, I sit in a bubble of good fortune. But I’m getting on. When the kids call the virus the Boomer Doomer, they had my kind in mind.
Which reminds me, I’d better get on to my lawyer again.