Reflection: After Lockdown
Harb Gill, Melbourne
It happened after I emerged from an invigorating swim in the bay with a dear friend. We had been talking about a gentle emergence from the life-imposed mandatory retreat into our homes and ourselves. We’d take it gently, we said, not being drawn to hurl ourselves into a larger life too quickly, and curious about how easily so many have managed to do that.
The sea provided all the lessons we needed. Going with the flow. Being buoyed by nature. Gentle flow of water over skin. Breathe in, breathe out. Having surrendered satisfyingly long to the gentle rocking of the waves, we headed to shore.
It was as we were beginning to climb the rocks at the end of the beach that we noticed a man sitting at the top, his tall, lean and elderly build framed against the sky. I slipped, without falling, and as I steadied myself he reached out his hand and said “Here, let me help you’’. I accepted his strong hand and thanked him.
Walking away, I became aware of a feeling that can be described, only inadequately, as a warmth lighting up the heart. His gesture was simple, yet profound. Any gentleman can move a woman, or a man. But this was different. This was a stranger offering a bare hand in the time of coronavirus. He had his mask on, yet he held out his hand to my bare, albeit cooler, one. A meeting of hands that we wash for two happy birthdays each time, back and front and tips and thumbs up, many times a day. The hands that have dared not meet those of loved ones outside the immediate family. The hands that most times must not touch even our own faces.
Perhaps it was also the ache of that longing that lit up the heart. The sweet sorrow. The missing that has been bravely held by so many for so many many months of 2020.
As I walked towards work, full of this simple yet momentous interaction, I thought of how so much has been made remarkable this year. A smile in the eyes. The little wave of an untouchable hand. The local lifestyle. The marvel of minutiae.
And the pair of spotted turtle doves whose baby I inadvertently dragged to the ground when pulling out a fruitless vine that had spread like in the day of the triffids. I popped the hatchling back into the nest and found a space for it between a plant and the fence. Mum came back, looked for a while, and then sat on the nest. But the nest looked like it would fall, it was unprotected from sun and wind, and the small dry leaf mum found to shield her baby didn’t do much.
I built a frame out of a cardboard box, one side open, and sat the nest in it when mum was out. She returned, looked at it curiously and then kept her baby warm for the next week or so while I fed the parents organic seeds so the baby would grow well.
Watching them became a meditation every day. Still is, even now that the fledgling is helping itself to the seeds on the bird bath. I wondered, as I walked home from the swim, if I would have befriended this little close-knit family this way at any other time.
Suddenly I wanted to run back to the masked man, to tell him how much his simple gesture meant to me. I wonder if he also knows how he turned the ordinary into the extraordinary.
Harb Gill is a desk editor at The Age in Melbourne