Saturday, April 18, 2020

A Dog's Eye: The 'Rona dance

There's a particular way people move around the kitchen so as to avoid bumping into each other, thus averting spillages and other accidents, and generally respecting people's space. I call it the kitchen dance. People who live with other people get very good at it. In families and shared homes, people quickly learn the moves.

As a writer I am a keen observer of human behaviour, but lately my surreptitious surveillance has been focused on people's actions in supermarket aisles and at the checkouts. 

A new dance has now hit the polished floors of our grocery emporiums: the social distancing disco. Most people are moving differently now. Instead of excusing themselves to reach in front of someone who is standing and deciding, people now wait. And I'm one of those people. We're moving around like we think other people are infectious. Sliding, shuffling, shifting position, speeding up and slowing down to avoid possible contagion. Our assumption is that any one of our fellow shoppers carries COVID-19.

The atmosphere in the supermarket has definitely changed. It feels different. Minor changes like maintaining a safe distance when queuing and packing our own bags have been taken on board without fuss. I don't hear much complaining about the restrictions being placed on us, and that is pleasing. Generally, people seem to be growing a brain and acting quite responsibly during this pandemic.


I've observed it can take quite a lot of effort to change people's behaviour. Clear and consistent messaging with some penalties attached, seems to do the trick, but it can take quite some time. The best example I can think of is Random Breath Testing which was first introduced in Australia in 1976, in Victoria. In 1976 drink driving was acceptable. In 2020 it is not. In my lifetime I've witnessed this massive change in societal attitudes to what has always been a foolish and dangerous act, even before drink driving laws were codified.

In contrast to this, has been the rapid response of people to COVID-19. There was no toilet paper on the supermarket shelves for two months. Other products are still in short supply. People are not going out except to work, shop and exercise as per government instructions. We panic when someone near us coughs or sneezes. Out hands have never been cleaner. People actually practise social distancing. In the blink of an eye, society has been transformed.

And so we dance.

Yesterday it was quite crowded at Coles and I saw much less attention to social distancing. The news is of course positive for Territorians. We haven't had a new case of COVID-19 for nearly two weeks. Schools will re open for all students tomorrow and there is talk of the Northern Territory leading the way out of these strange times in which we live, by easing restrictions before any one else. From what I saw yesterday, the latest round of positive whispering has had an immediate impact on people's behaviour.

And so I watch, reminded of the words of an ancient prophet who compared people to sheep noting we have "all gone astray; each of us turned to his own way." (Isaiah 53:6)

Sunday, April 12, 2020

relationDips: the eternal pantry

Food is purchased from the supermarket, brought home and stored in the fridge and the pantry. At the appropriate time that food is consumed, and will need to be replaced, if it's a staple or something you like, or substituted if it is not.

A pantry is a food cupboard, but we have other types of cupboards and storage spaces around our homes where we put things until we want to use them. We collect these things through various means, mostly our own purchases, supplemented by the presents of others. The purpose of these things is to add value to our lives, either aesthetically or practically. Essentially, because quality of life is primarily and directly connected to the quality of our relationships, these things are servants, slaves to a greater cause.

There are of course other investments we make into our relationships like time, and the greatest of all gifts; ourselves.
Just as food supplies what our bodies need, there are certain types of essential food for relationships. Love, in all its many splendid forms, care, consideration, courtesy, passion and sacrifice, is an obvious one. Love is infinite because it comes from an inexhaustible source. It's very much like the endless pack of Tim Tams where by some magical power you can keep on going to the pantry and getting more love. 

It's the same deal with patience and kindness. It even works with gratitude and passion. These priceless commodities emanate from the source of all good things: God. God is our eternal pantry, the tireless supplier of those precious things we need to keep our relationships healthy. The bottomless well of relational nutrients.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many of us to empty supermarkets shelves for the first time in our lives. Our pantries are perhaps also less well stocked. These shortages have allowed the weeds of fear and anxiety to prosper as our life sustaining ability to interact with others has been curtailed and much of the fun taken out of our social lives. Whether this hurts or helps our relationships depends on us.

Many are finding pathways through the darkness because of the eternal light which illuminates the road ahead. Faith, hope and love are also flourishing as we hold on to them, and for some of us, as we hold on to their ultimate source. God promises to supply all of our needs. He never breaks his promises, which is another thing we should learn and apply to our relationships. To have happy and healthy relationships we need more of what God has to offer, and it's as easy as entering the pantry or opening a cupboard and taking it off the shelf.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

A Dog's Eye: Space Invaders

It's funny you know. I didn't plan to write at all about the only thing people want to talk about. (Even if the main topic is not COVID-19, the subtext often is.) I guess the rebel in me, the one that might be condemning me to obscurity as a writer, just wanted to swim upstream.

I must be getting old and soft as I've just given in and jumped on the bandwagon. Partly, it's common sense. If I want to be in the world, why pretend that what the world cares about is a figment of overactive imagination? It's not. It would be stupid to think so. It's real and although I don't feel anxious, I acknowledge that many do. I wouldn't be a very good human if I didn't care about that. 

The other reason I'm writing about it is because it is having an impact on me. How could it not? Who hasn't been touched by what's happening? On Friday afternoon, we closed to students and will be switching to online delivery even though we, neither teachers nor students, are ready for that. As a result of the scramble to get ready, I've been employing a lot of mental energy to think of, process and implement various solutions to the myriad of problems which keep popping up. I'm not on my Pat Malone. Many people are facing exactly the same issues, or a host of different complications. Personally and professionally, COVID19's footprint is significant.

I don't recall ever spending so much time thinking about work as I have this week. I'm very good at switching off. I don't bring work home because I don't have to. I don't feel any obligation to complete work outside of the hours I'm paid for, nor to invest time and energy in solving work problems when I'm not at work. Of course, it happens sometimes, but as a rule, when I leave my office I leave my office behind.

This week has been different. I'm acutely aware I'm operating at a much higher level than normal. Those spaces reserved for non work related thinking are being invaded. Last night, I went to bed early and slept soundly. I told my wife, my brain was exhausted, but I was exaggerating...a little. If I was operating under my own strength, I wouldn't be able to maintain this intensity. However, my God is my strength and my song, and he gives me a fresh start each day. This morning I woke up good to go. Thankfully, I have two days at home before resuming the battle.

My prayer for everyone is that we become stronger through this trial. That we care more, love more and give more. That we value things we have taken for granted, and that we figure out what really matters and live out that belief instead of just paying lip service to it.