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Each day starts with the same routine; catch up with family and friends, check Facebook, WhatsApp, and avoid the news, at least first thing in the morning.  When we take the dogs out for their walk, I deliberately leave the phone at home because it’s too tempting, and, as Oscar Wilde puts it, I can avoid anything but temptation. It feels good to be outside but being outside these days is never a simple thing.  Have I got my mask on?  Keep 6 feet between me and someone else, which is sometimes hard to do when that ‘someone’ has a dog who wants to be friendly with mine.  Without a phone, I reflect on my conversations.

For once, my family in the UK and Ireland are faced with exactly the same challenges as I am even though they are thousands of miles between us.  My sisters are finding the lock down, with its restrictions, hard to escape from. And, invariably, our messages are interwoven with a common thread of futile hope and guilt.  Each day we wake up hoping that someone, somewhere, has found the miracle cure.  Instead, we find the world-changing virus continues to act as our prison guard.  We bemoan our loss of freedoms and quickly feel guilty.  After all, we could be infected.  We could be on a ventilator.  We should be grateful for what freedom we have.  There are others no so well off. And, so on and so on.

Having choked the inner bird of freedom on the bars of reality, we’re ready to think about how we might fill our day without leaving the house.  Suddenly, all those domestic chores that could be put off in favour of a more pressing meeting, or something more interesting, refuse to go away.  My reasoning to engage with these chores is, if I have to be housebound, I may as well pretty up the cell.  Who would have thought that redecorating has become the substance of my conversations?  Who knew that I’d be reduced to discussing the right colour for bathroom cabinets.  Sadly, my world has shrunk to a paintbrush and pot.

Right on time, the guilt kicks in and I think of how easy I have it.  There are those who cannot go outside at all.  Those who cannot go to a store, walk their dog or talk to family and friends.  I’m now beginning to appreciate a Catholic education motivated by guilt.  The nuns were right to force-feed us our greens while torturing us with stories of starving black babies in Africa.  Our parents were right to reign in our childish need for chaos and trouble by reminding us of the omnipresent eyes of the sacred heart picture.  You might not see him, but his eyes were never off you.  Now, free of nuns, and parents, I’m still careful not to leave anything on my plate and, whether I like it or not, I feel as if I’m being watched when I do something wrong.

Ah, it’s good to be outside.  Where did everyone go?  Traffic has been reduced to almost a standstill, and there’s hardly anyone walking. Everyone’s at home at their computers enjoying the usual jokes, memes, that make our lives more bearable.  Where would we be if this virus didn’t stimulate the imaginations of very bored individuals?  What else can they do?  If you’re stuck in the house, you’re either a viewer of these witty satires, or you’re selling your soul to the devil for a meme that will go viral.  And, since I haven’t got the patience or motivation to seek such virtual recognition, I’m the voyeur.   Besides, my soul has depreciated in value since I gave up believing in the devil.  Anyway, if he really exists, he knows he has me in the bag already.

I’m still outside, my mind is wandering as it usually does, and now I wish I’d brought my phone.  Why do I torture myself this way?  But when I read the news, I’m faced with exactly the same question.  When I read about the same culprits doing the same bloody stupid things, I’m uptight again.  My anxiety levels would soar through the roof and into the heavens if they could get that far without touching a hard surface.  Have you noticed that as our outer spaces have decreased, our emotions have increased in intensity?  For instance, who knew I could be so petty? 

If only I could meditate.  I’m praying, even though it’s against my religion, that I’m not the only one who finds the thought of meditation depressing. The mere thought of trying to empty my cluttered mind would drive me to want to eat greens for the rest of my life.  I’d prefer to live and die in my religious guilt than try to escape the random inconsequential thoughts of my everyday life.  I love my stream of consciousness. It takes me to all sorts of weird and wonderful places.  While the sacred heart might see into our hearts and minds, I am truly thankful other people are blind to our thoughts. 

The walk back to the house has moved up a gear.  Who said that delayed gratification was a good thing?  It must have been some sad masochist.  My phone has never left my mind since I left it in the house.  I keep reaching into my pocket in the hopes that it’s there, but, no, the hand returns empty.  My connection to the outside world lies at home on a shelf screaming out my name. And, as if by osmosis, the dog senses my neurotic need for information and speeds up. I think he’s determined to get away from the person talking to himself, and back to a dish with his name on it.

We’re home.  The news is not good.  With a heavy heart, I take up the paintbrush and consider painting the dog blue.  Of course, no sooner do I think this than I find myself being watched by someone out there on a higher plane.

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