Apr 24, 2020
Day 13 of self-isolating. The longest I’ve ever remained inside. The longest I’ve ever had only my husband for company. The longest I’ve ever not been face to face with a colleague or client. The longest I’ve ever not walked down the street, not looked in a shop window, not bought a cup of coffee, not smiled at a stranger.
When we bought our flat, we traded size for location. Halfway up the iconic Trellick Tower, we traded entertaining at home for dinners and coffees in Golborne Road, for walks along the canal. We traded a garden and spare bedroom for views and a tiny balcony. We traded suburbia for living in the midst of North Kensington.
There is nowhere I’d rather be.
I’m grateful – grateful that my symptoms have been very mild; grateful that I love my husband’s company; grateful that I’m an introvert; grateful that I have a job I can do remotely; grateful for colleagues and clients; grateful for Skype calls with my family. Grateful for the community. Witnessing the WhatsApp messages; the care, the calls and texts and love.
Our views are spectacular; huge windows – spring green leaves and pink and purple blossoms. The Surrey hills in the distance. Reminiscent of a Lowry painting. Of vistas and buildings and light and people and all things urban.
I sit and look and wonder.
I wonder what it’d be like if I had children and no money and no balcony. I wonder what it’d be like if I had an abusive partner. I wonder what it’d be like if I had lost my job. I wonder what it’d be like if I was reliant on government benefits. I wonder what it’d be like if I had serious mental or physical health issues. I wonder what it’d be like if I had a drug or alcohol addiction. I wonder what it’d be like if someone close and dear to me was in hospital, or on a ventilator, or died. I wonder what it’d be like if my mother, in her eighties and in another country, became ill. I wonder how I’d cope. And I’m grateful.
I sit and look, and I’m angry. I read of the pandemic preparedness exercise, Cygnus, that revealed failures with supplies and ventilators and capacity, the recommendations of which were seemingly not acted on. I hear the politicians’ spin and see the pictures of doctors and nurses and care workers without PPE, using bin bags to try and keep their loved ones safe. And I think of their families. And their courage and dignity. And I’m angry.
I sit and look and remember.
Grenfell Tower, shrouded in white, the green heart still lit up at night, in the middle of my view. I remember the moment I walked into the bedroom and saw it engulfed in flames. I remember the sounds of fire engines. I remember the days after. I remember the throngs of people, the piles of donations. The disbelief. The months, now years, of learning how to live with grief. The eerie silence of the monthly walks in memory of those that died.
The silence extended. Hushed rail tracks. Golborne Road – bustling market street – unmoving. Still. Occasional sound of sirens. This time ambulances not fire engines. Blue lights flashing. Turning down small cul-de-sacs. Untold heartbreak. Played out in solitary moments. Virtual goodbyes.
I sit and look and I’m apprehensive.
Grateful for what I’ve learned about resilience after Grenfell. I meditate, I exercise, I eat well, I laugh and weep. I have good days and bad days. I hug my husband tighter. I make a cup of tea.
And think of the day I can go outside and smile at a stranger.
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