I wake in the night, shocked and breathless, from a dream of monstrously misshapen horses. It is 3am, the time that F. Scott Fitzgerald described as the dark night of the soul. For a moment, I am convinced that I have this virus, and that I’m going to die. I panic about who is going to look after the mares when I’m gone.
I finally go back to sleep, and I wake again to find that I am still alive. This feels like a bonus. Down in the field, the mares, untroubled, greet me with bright eyes and pricked ears. I give them carrots and love. They are peaceful and comical and entirely unmoved by global events. I stand with them and breathe in their serenity and remind myself of the reality of the world, which is, in this moment, the steady Scottish earth and the mild air on my face and the living creatures by my side.
A friend calls from the west coast. Even though she is a hundred and sixty miles away, I find the thought that she is in the same country extremely reassuring. (Many of my old friends live in the south, and, at times like this, I feel the geographical distance more than ever.) We discuss the uncertainty and bat a bit of gallows humour back and forth and talk about the faint look of panic in the eyes of the Prime Minister.
I have a hundred projects on the go in my mind. I want to use the internet to help people who are feeling lonely and isolated. I have ideas about setting up some kind of virtual classroom for the children who can’t go to school, or putting out videos of the horses to cheer people who can’t see their horses, or writing down every single line of wisdom and beauty I can find and putting them all on the web. These vague notions jostle about in my fogged brain, quarrelling and squabbling with each other. I can’t quite sort them out. I make spit-spot, Mary Poppins noises to myself, but the fog persists.
I realise that the days of worry and fret have accumulated, and I’ve hit a sort of existential wall. This crisis feels like it has been going on for a long time, and, for most people, it’s not just a personal worry. It’s fear for all those incredible doctors and nurses and the life of the dear old NHS itself. It’s fret for the country as a whole; for the world as a whole. It’s the heartache for the old people and the vulnerable people and the people who were already hanging on by their fingernails before this virus appeared.
I keep thinking: find the beauty, find the positive, find the love. I dig around for those as if I am excavating precious artefacts from the Bronze age. And then, just as I am holding on to hope, I see one of those terrifying graphs or read a story about an old gentleman desperately looking for eggs in the supermarket or see cross people yelling on Twitter, and I bash into the wall again.
Humans, I remind myself, are amazingly adaptable. Give it some time, I think to myself, and we will all get used to this new reality. There might be some gleaming, glimmering silver linings. Perhaps this whole thing might remind everyone that what is most important is not status and money and glittering prizes, but love and community and being kind. Even as I write this I hear a voice in my head saying, ‘Oh, you mad old hippy’. But it could be true. I so, so hope that it will be true.