If it weren't for the plague howling outside the door and the threat of financial ruin, the lockdown would be just about the most beautiful thing to happen in our lifetimes. The world, asleep; the world, dreaming. Everyone, even if just for a moment, has felt that sense of peace these past few weeks. Everyone has felt the rat race stripped of its race and its rats turned back into human beings who go about their lives in solitude.
If it weren't for the daily appearance of Dr Ashley Bloomfield ringing his bell and saying "hear ye, hear ye" before he announces the catalogue of the sick and the dead, then the lockdown would be a period of calm such as we have never known before. Gone is the hectic morning need to shower, to wolf something down, to rush out the door in time for work or school or, craziest of all, the gym. Les Mills is having a lie-down. It's the ultimate exercise class: don't move.
If it weren't for the sight of Donald Trump shambling into view and describing the situation as beautiful when in fact the situation is beyond tragic, beyond control, beyond rescue and America is destined to bring out its dead in record numbers, then the lockdown would be Zen. It would be the art of the motorcycle maintenance of the soul. It would be the Marie Kondo of the mind. Life reduced to simple things, done well, without haste.
If it weren't for the prospect of an economic collapse so severe that it brings back those classic photographs of the Great Depression into close and terrifying view – the famous one by Dorothea Lange of an intensely worried Florence Thompson, a pea picker and mother, living in a tent with her five children; the famous one by Arthur Rothstein of a farmer and his two sons bent forwards by a dust storm as they approach their half-buried home in Oklahoma - and makes you wonder whether they will be the kinds of images you're about to see in America, in Europe, in New Zealand, then the lockdown could be enjoyed as a wonderful respite for the planet. There is less petrol and belch clogging the air, fewer chemicals and sludge polluting the ocean, less of all the rest of our bulls*** ruining life on Earth. Covid-19 doesn't hate the planet. It only hates the people on it.
If it weren't for knowing that there are people behind the statistics of the dead around the world, not being able to even begin to grasp the scale of suffering that has caused and eventually feeling only a dull, numbness at the death toll that gets bigger and bigger every day, then the lockdown would be remembered as that time you baked a lot. So many cakes, so many biscuits. You stuffed them in your mouth and life felt sweet.
If it weren't for the loss of one of my writing contracts, reducing my income by about 25 per cent and I'm now hoping like hell I don't lose everything, like the other journalists and everyone else who were laid off at Bauer, then the lockdown would be something I'd survive intact. But it isn't and I'm afraid. There will be 100,000 New Zealanders out of work. What if I'm one of them? I read this the other day, about a family who had lost their jobs: "They have been forced to apply for a hardship grant from the Ministry of Social Development to pay for groceries. The grants are only available to people who have zero cash in their bank account." God almighty. Maybe I'll lose all my contracts and this column will be the last thing I ever write for publication. Just as well it's cheerful, hate to go out on a downer.
If it weren't for the lockdown, then a lot more of us would be sick or dead. We'd be New York. We'd be Lombardy. We'd be Wuhan. But we're New Zealand, that strange and beautiful island archipelago at the end of the world, land of the flightless bird, land of the deserted beach and the solitary alp, land of Mosgiel and Eketahuna and Clive and Ahipara, land of Level 4 and don't ask about Level 5; and we're still, many of us freshly impoverished, newly stressed to the eyeballs, worried and anxious and in a state of dread, but forever, even if faintly, hopeful – alive.