Leaving behind the carcasses of my life

No one knows what a post Covid-19 world will be like, but everyone has a theory and the theories can be overwhelming, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell

In a bid to spice up our daily routines at home, we’ve been taking the dog for his walk at different times of the day. The other night, we slung a head torch from our camping kit around his neck and walked in the dark. Yesterday I discarded all pretence of a “normal” workday and took him out at 2pm. This is what counts as reckless abandon these days.

Wanting to do the gentle climb up Takarunga, we walked through Devonport village. For the first time in weeks, it had a bustle to it. There were lights on inside the shops and business owners were out cleaning their windows. I took my role as encouraging local shopper to heart and smiled at them to communicate my support, before catching my reflection in one of their very clean windows and realising the smile was actually a slightly anxious grimace.

The slightly anxious grimace is a semi-permanent facial feature at the moment and the one I flashed at the barista was the result of spending yet another 20 minutes thinking about Arundhati Roy’s bloody portal.

On April 4, The Financial Times published Roy’s The Pandemic is a Portal essay and it has haunted me ever since. It will, without doubt, be one of the most recalled and celebrated essays of this horrible epoch but it is also why my five inches of Brethren brown regrowth are less speckled, and more streaked, with grey.

Roy writes:

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.

It is truly wonderful writing but it has caused me untold anxiety about what to pack for this trip through the portal. I have spent every day since its publication making my list of carcasses to leave behind. I have worried endlessly about being turned away from the portal boarding gates because I have too much luggage. I have never been capable of packing lightly, once taking eight pairs of shoes to Sydney for the weekend, and now I am consumed by the idea that Roy herself, bathed in golden light, dressed in flowing linen, will be at the gate to force me to demonstrate that my carry-on isn’t too big. Roy will surely know that I’ve stuffed some avarice in the side pocket next to my hopes for a greener future and my dreams of equality for all.

Roy’s essay is one of many that have tried to imagine a new post-pandemic world, urging us to carefully consider what lies ahead and how we might shape it. At the start of lockdown, I scoured every single one of them, looking for an upside in these, the unprecedented times. I sieved through them like I was panning for gold but after a few weeks all I had was a pocket full of fool’s gold and severe anxiety about what luggage to pack for the ride to the new world beyond the gateway.

What started off as innocent fleeting thoughts from the authors of these imaginings, some grand and glorious, some the fevered pipe dreams of the privileged, soon took leaden form as they merged with my increasing anxiety about having to make a decision about which ideas to take with me to the new world. ‘What if turning New Zealand into a commune for billionaires IS a good idea?’ I pondered during my weekly shower. ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God’ I countered, eventually deciding not to pack the billionaire paradise idea because the odds on rich men getting through the portal seem low.

For every single wish-list, think-piece or essay about what the future could or should look like, there have been thousands of readers pinning their colours to its mast. Everyone has loaded their hopes and dreams atop these wobbly boats and perhaps, like me, been worried about whether they had picked the right one for the journey and packed the right gear. Many have heeded Roy’s call to fight for whatever their new world is and battles have ensued.

These predictions and our belief in them creates a sense of having control when we have lost it. They create an illusion of certainty when we have none. Authors and readers alike paint colourful pictures of what the future holds because we can no longer see what was once there. I have spent weeks worrying about being ready for the new world but no one, not the great essayists, economists or politicians of our time, can possibly know what it will look like. I’ve spent days juggling big ideologies and values to determine what the right, lightly weighted ones might be for the after and it’s all been a waste of time.

I’ve imagined so much about our future. I don’t know what it looks like, though we have some indication it could be hard and difficult and my mind is weary from trying to see it.

At the top of Takarunga, dog dragging me now, I looked across to the city. Throughout the lockdown we’ve gone to look at the city across the harbour to make sure it’s still there. It always is and, somehow, sighting it is reassuring.

I can deal with what I can see.

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