I woke up Sunday morning and the world was different. I felt it in my bones and sensed it all around me, the subtle but distinct change that had taken place in the hours I’d slept.
I’ve always been an early riser and like most people, I follow an ordinary, but a fairly regimented morning routine of getting up, making coffee, skimming e-mails, etc. While the coffee machine chugs away, I make my way out onto the terrace and take in the beauty of the morning. The dawn chorus, dogs barking, faint rumblings of cars and trucks on the highway, muted voices of people coming from the courtyards and streets and seeing the pastel orange and pink hues of the sunrise. A deep breath, a grateful thought and a quiet blessing to my family and friends near and far – it’s how every day begins.
This past Sunday mornings’ routine was no different inside the apartment, but when I stepped out onto the terrace, my ears were assaulted with the chirps, twitters, caws and tweets of birds. Maddingly loud birds. The ordinary gentle dawn chorus had erupted into a raucous avian cacophony.
Why were they so loud? I couldn’t see a greater number of birds than normal in the trees or on rooftops. But I had never heard them this loud. I listened in wonderment for a few minutes, and then the difference this morning hit me. There were no other noises to drown them out. No dogs barking, no human voices, no revving of moto engines or the humming and grinding tire noise from the highway, no cats bawling, no car doors slamming, no coughing from smokers out to get their first cigarette of the day. Even the sheepdog in the farm building in the dry arroyo, who never, ever stops barking from sundown to sunup, was quiet.
Quiet like an early Christmas morning when everyone is at home and everything is closed and the day begins filled with expectation. Or after a big snowfall when the world is clean and white and the snow covers the ground and stifles sounds.
The streets were completely empty. Nothing moving except for two lone vehicles far off in the distance. Traffic lights changed from amber, red and green – once, twice and then a third time with no one waiting. The pharmacy sign that switches back and forth from a green cross to the always incorrect digital clock was the only other thing that seemed to denote movement. The coastline, the white buildings below and up here on mountainside were blanketed in heavy, grey cloud, seemingly hovering in expectation or hunkering down for a long wait. Maybe both.
It was the beginning of the Estado de Alarma (State of Alarm), the so-called nationwide lockdown of Spain. Not the official decreed day (that was yesterday), but it was obvious procedures had been implemented overnight for the containment and prevention of COVID-19 or coronavirus in layman’s terms. And we have a set of rules that must be followed, mostly the elimination of going out of our homes for unnecessary reasons. Right now, we are allowed to shop for food and essentials, take care of health emergencies and necessary healthcare, assist especially vulnerable people, purchase gasoline, pick up medications, travel to and from workplaces, and transport people to the airport who are able to get out. That’s it. And for all of this, proof is required. We have been advised the police will be stopping those who venture out, questioning and checking the validity of our reason for leaving our homes. Anyone not complying with these rules will be dealt with accordingly.
This is not rocket science – it’s a case of ‘do this, or else’. Is the threat of ‘or else’ worth giving in to the innate voyeurism we humans seem to have? And if we do get away with having an up-close and personal look at what’s happening, is it worth exposing ourselves, and in a domino effect, exposing others to this fast-moving virus? Think of your grandparents, your asthmatic toddler, your 83-year-old neighbour with Parkinson’s and dementia, your brother with a compromised immune system from Lyme disease. Let’s face it, most of us won’t die from contracting COVID-19, but some will. And I do not want people to fall ill (or worse) from my inability to restrain my curiosity or overcome cabin fever. It’s that simple. I will comply.
I’ll stay in my apartment and count my blessings in what I do have – a comfortable place to live, plenty of food and water, books on my e-reader (and real ones too), paper and pencils, my underutilized Netflix subscription, a Scrabble game and something to knit. Then there are added bonuses – precious time to read and write and study Spanish, the opportunity to sit on the terrace and soak up the sunshine, the joy of listening to those birds in all of their stridency, the technological ability to communicate with my friends and family in Canada and all over the world. Most of all, to have someone wonderful with me to share in these weeks.
Day 3 into this and the change is palpable. The quiet is just one of the differences, but it is the one I notice most. And we have a long way to go yet. Although we’ve been told that it will be two weeks, most of us here are sure it will last longer. I am good with that. The working together of everyone to contain and prevent what could be disastrous on a world-wide scale is the least we can do. Follow the rules, help those who can’t help themselves and be a responsible person. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and I am willing to do my small part in staving off the spread of this virus.
Also, I refuse to call it a lockdown. I prefer to think of it as a shelter-in-place strategy for self-care, community care and world care. All of us can and should do our part to make a difference – care to join me?