Published in Lionheart Magazine issue 13, the “Magic” edition, August 2021.
Normally I’d say that I rarely get bored – only boring people are bored! – but the pandemic really knocked me down a peg. I was bored like only a five year old can be, lolling around and moping about it. I’ve forgot a lot of the details of lockdown now, because that’s how memory works: when nothing happens it will feel unending in the moment, but the brain glosses over in retrospect because why bother keeping a record of something so unremarkable?
The lockdown experience reminded me of childhood in more ways than one: you’re told when you can do things, who you can see, and when TV has lost its allure you’re left going on aimless walks around your neighbourhood. Fortunately for me, I’d learned how to handle boredom as a child so I was prepared – I knew that you go from whining about how dull it all is until you get sick of yourself and go do something. It’s like a spark going off inside of your mind, and you needed that dullness to get there, right? When I talk about magic, this is what I mean – the incredible ability of our own minds to find connections and create something wonderful.
When it worked it was great. I took long wanders along the riverbank, taking note of the tidal markers and the wildflowers – it was peaceful and lovely. But I couldn’t make it last: I’m not a child anymore, and I need my world to be bigger than this. I want to stress that I know I was very lucky to be so bored by a pandemic where people died, but that’s also part of the problem: I kept expecting some kind of clarity of mind in the middle of it all – some kind of appreciation or insight triggered by the severity of the situation – but it never came. In my rational mind I knew I was fortunate, but deep inside I was still the same brat I’ve always been.
Except sometimes. In the first lockdown, when absolutely everything was closed, I got the train to Southbank one day and walked across the river up to Chinatown, through Soho and up to King’s Cross – it was as if someone had hit the pause button on the city. During that time the Tube was mostly empty, with each platform plastered not with the usual rainbow of advertisements but in posters encouraging us to wash our hands, wear our masks, and take our vitamins. The only thing breaking it up was the occasional “Poems on the Underground” poster:
“I open the window to let you in,
rain, and your forceful breath
startles the curtain, smelling of moss,
forming droplets on my lips.” [Julia Fiedorczuk]
When I read this it had been a year of masking and social distancing, and the idea of letting someone close enough to feel their breath felt impossible. My brain had started to adjust to this new, fearful reality, but once I was reminded of the past, the thought of brushing up against a stranger on the way to the bar left me breathless. It was right there, like it was preserved under glass in a frame, waiting for me to pick it up again. The same was true about the oil painting I used to do as a teenager, which I got back into again during that third and most crushing lockdown. I discovered that my abilities were exactly where I’d left them – no better, no worse, just like a time capsule within myself. Now that the world is opening again I think about this a lot: I wonder which memories I’ll stumble across as I see little things that remind me of our funny year spent inside our houses, inside our minds.
The city came back again eventually, and we stumbled out of our houses squinting at the light, all a bit worse for wear. Part of me wants to forget this ever happened, but I know that’s not how it works. What I do know is that this pandemic pushed us all to the edges of our resilience – our worlds shrunk and we had to retreat into our minds, because outside there was nothing to do but wait, try really hard to be grateful, and take yet another walk.
Getting that vaccine was one of the best moments of my life – it was the key to getting the world back, and if that’s not magic then I don’t know anything. I keep having these moments where I’m sitting in my favourite restaurants and I realise that for a moment, I’d actually forgot all about this year. Then I’m absolutely bowled over by the miracle of getting to do these normal things again. Can you believe it! How wonderful and how ordinary, all at the same time. See, there is nothing magic about magic.
The poem by Julia Fiedorczuk is “Wish You Were Here”. Copyright © 2017 by Julia Fiedorczuk. Translation copyright © 2017 by Bill Johnston, from Oxygen. Reprinted with kind permission of The Permissions Company LLC, on behalf of Zephyr Press in Minneapolis, Minnesota (zephyrpress.org).