Several people I know have spoken to me about a puzzling sense of melancholy as lockdown slowly comes to an end (one hopes). While the panic, sorry pandemic, was in full swing, most people's main preoccupations were: 1. a longing to return to how things were before; and 2. a dogged day-by-day determination to endure.
But now the tide of fear is subsiding, people have stopped dropping like flies in the street (hang on, that never happened, so why ... no, no, let's not open up that can of worms) and the first signs of normality are appearing along with the new spring leaves on the trees.
So why the sad faces? Smile, it might never happen, as men yell in my direction from time to time in the street.
Could delayed shock be part of what is making some people feel odd when they expected to feel ecstatic - the shock of realising that you cannot ever again take anything for granted? Although some freedoms and rights are gradually being returned, we now understand something most of us really weren't aware of a year ago - namely, that everything can be whipped away at a moment's notice, on someone else's whim. There is also no guarantee that we will ever be allowed to do all the things that we used to be allowed to do - and, most shockingly, it turns out that large numbers of our fellow humans seemed to be delighted to find themselves incarcerated in a cage of rules.
Or is there something else at work? A year ago, abruptly, the fabric of our lives, the backdrop of day-to-day existence, was torn up and the torn pieces were tossed high into the air. The things we had assumed were part and parcel of normal human life vanished before our eyes.
We endured that strange and unexpected transformation, and now, twelve months later, as we snatch back the shreds of our former lives and start to try to put them back together, every single piece has to be examined, to see exactly where it goes. As we study each bit, we have to reassess it, asking ourselves: where does this fit - in fact, does it fit anywhere at all? Every aspect of our existence is thus thrown into question.
Having thought all we wanted was to go back to normal, we now find ourselves facing choices. Where before we simply accepted, we now are faced with questions that in turn make us re-examine the past.
So many things were taken away but did we miss all of them? Having lived without them, do we really want to go back to all of those places, those people, those habits? Before all this happened, were we actually happy or were we simply unthinking? Now that we are starting over, do we want to rebuild things exactly as they were again?
Questioning one's own reality is a frightening experience, and more than enough to induce melancholia. We thought we were happy then, but can we be absolutely sure?