What if Bondi Had Just Been Locked Down First?
With eight LGAs in Western Sydney now in strict lockdown, you might’ve wondered the same. Of course, that hypothetical is now an alternate reality we’ll never experience. We just have to live this reality, the one with all the weariness and worries of, well, life, not just lockdown.
I feel like the pandemic had the potential to unite us. A virus that doesn’t discriminate by race or gender, a shared experience of suffering and malaise the world over, a common enemy and a common hope of life ‘on the other side’.
There’s been some bright moments, but lately it feels like COVID is dividing us more than uniting us. Jimmy Rees’ Meanwhile in Australia videos have been welcome comic relief in our household and yet the whole premise is how (smugly) parochial and divided we are – “Shut the border!” Other times it’s felt like regional NSW would happily cut ties with ‘those Sydney people’.
It was great that we shifted from a race-based name to ‘the Delta variant’ (with apologies to the Greek alphabet), except this outbreak is now officially known as ‘the Bondi cluster’. It’s awkward feeling like we in the Eastern Suburbs are the (unintended) source of so much woe for the rest of Sydney.
Not that it’s all activewear and margaritas here in the east. Friends in the Bondi Junction apartment block were under police guard for two weeks. I know of several new businesses scuppered. The one-in-four who live alone are isolated. Families in apartments have cabin fever. The NBN is having a bad week in my street although, statistically speaking, we can be thankful that more of us in this area can work from home.
The tech billionaires might be escaping planet earth but the pandemic has grounded the lot of us, some worse than others of course. And we’ll only find a way through this if we can act together rather than go tribal.
Of course, what’s behind our parochial premiers and our own tribalism is so often our anxiety talking. When we’re anxious our normal desire for control and to justify ourselves is heightened. We become self-protective (while 38,000 Aussies remain locked out overseas). We want someone to blame and easily condemn others (there were 5,000 tip-offs to police after the recent lockdown protest). We entertain a little self-righteousness about what it’s costing us to do ‘the right thing’, or that we’re one of the vaccinated.
This is where the very heart of Christianity offers us a resource for this moment. It enables us to admit that very often we are the problem, precisely because it assures us that God loved us and accepts us even at our worst. The ‘gospel’ tells us that God is ready to accept us, not because of our great virtue comparative to others, but because the Son of God entered into our mess and sacrificed himself for our freedom and forgiveness.
As we get hold of that reality it helps us to be more humble and less judgy, more open and less tribal, more self-sacrificial and less self-protective. It offers us a way to find hope in this anxious time and not to shut the borders of our hearts to those outside our tribe, which is just the thing we need to get through this together.
P.S. It’s still okay to smile as we keep our distance on the footpath. And if you’re wearing a mask, smile with your eyes.