On the last day of Chanukah my parents got the biggest present they could have imagined – the Pfizer Covid vaccine.
It marked the beginning of the end of nine months of fraught daily living.
Ever since Purim when we snuck in a final festive meal, we have stayed connected by Zoom or in furtive garden engagement from distances. The relief they felt was actually surpassed by my own: knowing they were likely ‘in the clear’ at least for a period of time from the excesses of the virus, also means I am no longer worrying about the possibility of transmitting the infection to them, which from the start of the pandemic has been my chief concern.
Of course, my parents still worry about me like before: ‘How am I coping living on my own?’; ‘What are my social opportunities’?; and ‘is there any sign of the jobs market improving’?
Living on my own, has been tough in these turbulent times, with long periods of complete lockdown, punctuated by the partial reopening of life: my summer became ‘the Summer of James’ where I attached high thrill factors to things I previously took for granted: swimming in Hampstead Pond was reinvented in my mind as some sort of equal to Lake Garda; Kew Gardens and the River Thames, became like Wonders of the World; and a night in a hotel in Torbay in early August really did feel like going back to the heyday of the 1950s when people seasoned on the English Riviera.
I even managed to sneak away to Gibraltar ahead of Lockdown 2 for five days of early autumn sun.
Despite these escapes the first full winter of Covid-19 continues to be ‘un-normal’ as we are all reminded of our shared vulnerabilities.
From a personal perspective, Covid has given me time to think about all the blessings in my life, reminding me of how lucky I have been – including in the face of dangers in the past.
For example, I regularly visited Israel between 2000 and 2005 during the Second Intifada, but thankfully never witnessed any terrorism. The threat of Covid does not stand comparison as it is of a different type and scale.
Not since the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s has such a widescale health crisis gripped the whole world. Covid is very different, obviously in transmission and form, but also in impact: it tends to hit the older population greatest, whereas HIV and AIDS has been much more prevalent in younger age groups.
I was lucky enough to be able to escape Lockdown 1 for a couple of weeks, when I volunteered to help with organising the funerals at Bushey cemetery.
Although there was a risk element it did me the power of good to help my community in our hour of need. It also meant I could apply some meaning to my own life at a time of great loneliness, just after missing so much, like the Seder, and dreading the next death notice coming through from one of my synagogues.
Throughout the past nine months I have supported and been supported by a dozen other friends all in our late 30s living on our own: we have had to find new ways of socialising whether walking and talking, or more often through new technology.
Zoom parties are all the rage. Though they are no substitute for the real thing.
Sharing our vulnerabilities, while we do our best to protect public health was certainly an illuminating aspect of 2020. Hopefully 2021 will herald the start of a new ‘normal’.