Home is where the heart is but may I go now?

Who knows how changed the society will be into which we emerge after the pandemic, writes Barney Zwartz.

By Barney Zwartz

July 5 2020In a famous Peanuts cartoon, Charlie Brown accuses Linus of hypocrisy in claiming to love humanity. “I love humanity,” Linus protests. “It’s just people I can’t stand!” 

As normality slowly returns, I suspect many of us have felt a bit like that. Of course it has been terrible not to be able to visit grandparents, cafes, concerts, gyms and the like. But ... hasn’t it been pretty good to be spared so many irritating interactions, often with people who have long driven us silently mad? 

On the occasions I had to leave the house, I was startled and delighted by how little traffic there was (though naturally one would still find two cars determinedly driving at 57kmh side by side on a double lane 80-limit road). 

I’ve been getting plenty of exercise – the journey from the computer to the fridge is about eight metres, and the same back, so that’s about two kilometres a day right there. And, of course, carrying the extra weight I’ve put on must be making my muscles work harder, mustn’t it?  

Many people have noted the increasing sociability in our neighbourhoods, and our little group of morning dog-walkers has grown from three to up to eight (all properly socially distanced, of course). And I haven’t lost a single table tennis match since early March – easily my longest run. No matter that I haven’t won any either.  

Some difficulties from home life during the pandemic have been real, and some have been so trivial that they are really illusory. Here is one, for example, that has taken more time than it should have: the role of background music while I am working. Is it permissible? Of course, because the Apostle Paul teaches me that “everything is permissible for me – but not everything is beneficial” (1 Cor. 6:12). 

The problem is, the great composers to whom I turn to enrich my life are too insistent. They don’t stay in the background for long – soon they are in the foreground, and the work has receded. (Perhaps that is true of any music.) So don’t listen, I hear you cry. But in that case I am confined to a silent house, with only my wife’s wise and dulcet words for company. I was going to say they are not always dulcet, but she told me I couldn’t! 

Meanwhile the (officially) cutest dog in Ferntree Gully considers any moment of the day not spent catching or chasing a ball, entirely wasted, and she spends those long moments lying at my feet looking at once plaintive and hopeful.  

We venture out twice a day, her 15-year-old partner ambling amiably around the park while she leaps and sprints. We think he is suffering somewhat from dementia, and I can only hope my final days are as relaxed and pleasant.  

I don’t believe I have dementia – is one ever sure? – but the pandemic seems to have taken a toll on my capacity for profound and noble thoughts, as this diary demonstrates. Who knows how changed the society will be into which we emerge but, despite the consolations of solitude, I’m just about ready for it. 

Barney Zwartz is media adviser to Archbishop Philip Freier and a senior fellow of the Centre for Public Christianity.