It feels like a lifetime ago thinking back on it now, but I still remember that afternoon on Tuesday 10 th March. After a normal day of university, I was at home, nervously checking e-mails, WhatsApp messages and online newspapers to see what the next day would hold. Were classes going to be cancelled? Would my university be closed? Would in fact the entire city go on lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic? A whole evening of questions which concluded in the anticipated yes, all universities and schools would be closed from Wednesday until further notice. But the reality only hit the next day when a visit to the supermarket made me feel as though we were preparing for a nuclear war: shelves had been completely emptied of products, people were loading their shopping carts with toilet paper (honestly, what were people’s obsession with toilet paper?!) and the panic was almost palpable.
It may sound dramatic and I realise I am painting a rather ugly picture, but the truth is that the situation in Spain has been dire. The country has spent the past three months on lockdown, hospitals became overcrowded, medical staff were overworked (to say the very least), some small shops have gone out of business, and all of this has come around during the exam period for students and pupils. So, I won’t lie… it’s been hard, as I’m sure it has been for you too, whoever you are, reading this.
And yet, we’ve made it through the three months of lockdown, the numbers of fatalities per day have gone down, new small businesses have emerged, bars, restaurants and museums have reopened, and exams have either been done online (successfully) or they have been simply postponed to later on in the year.
In Spanish, we have this saying “no hay malo que por bien no venga”, which means “there is no evil that comes without bearing good”. Even amid change and uncertainty, even despite the challenges we may have to face, I believe that there is always something to be learnt or taken away from a bad situation, even one as trying as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Once the shock stage had been surpassed, we saw individuals come together in unity: a post on social media started a nation-wide clapping here in Spain, and so every evening at 8 pm we would lean out from our windows and balconies and clap together. It started off as a way of showing our appreciation for the medical staff, but as the days went on and we carried on doing it, the clapping also became a way of supporting each other in our neighbourhoods. A way of coming together as a community. Also, most people suddenly had more free time on their hands and were able to finally do those creative things they had always put off: painting, singing, picking up a new instrument, sewing, reading… One of my neighbours decided to spend three consecutive mornings sanding down and then painting the wooden frame of his window, and whilst I did not appreciate the noise too much, I have to admit I grew to admire his dedication to that window-frame.
Another advantage we have gained in the midst of this pandemic has been the discovery of doing work from home. Whilst I am completely against teleworking replacing human contact (because it cannot and it should not), we cannot deny that working from home has brought about new opportunities, new ideas and perhaps for some even greater efficiency. But by far the greatest positive impact that COVID-19 has brought us is a greater appreciation for the things that truly matter: unity, family, compassion, health, wellbeing, nature, the outside, and getting together with friends. All the little things that we took for granted and were snatched away from our grasp three months ago are the things that we are finally learning to value.
In the first week of the lockdown, I started calling my grandma on a daily basis, knowing that, since she lives alone and wouldn’t have anyone to talk to in person, she would need someone there, even if it was just over the phone. More recently, those daily calls with my grandma have turned into evening catch-ups between my grandma, my mum and myself, and at the end of each day, we give each other updates and talk about what we each got up to during the day. And now I realise that what I saw at first as merely a caring gesture that would help my grandma, has been one of the things that, along with the love and support of other, beautiful people in my life, has sustained me through this trying time. And not only that: it’s also simultaneously crazy and magical that during this time of isolation we have actually all become closer.
One day, when all of this is history, we will be able to remind ourselves of just how resilient and strong we were, to overcome a situation such as this. We will have new tools at our disposal and new ways of overcoming challenges. We will have grown as individuals, having had the opportunity to discover ourselves a bit more or revisit forgotten parts of ourselves. And most importantly, I hope and believe that we will be more united and more compassionate towards one another, having learnt to value that which truly matters.