It is well with my soul in Melbourne because I can get a haircut

Monday, 19 October – Melbourne. The day after Sunday, 18 October. The day the Melbourne Vixens won the Super Netball Grand Final. The day after the Melbourne Storm qualified, yet again, for the NRL Grand Final and two Melbourne teams – the Geelong Cats and Richmond Tigers – won over their opposition to ensure an all Victorian AFL final (the first time in a number of years) in Queensland!

Apart from a weekend of sporting news, one of the few things still bringing joy to many Melburnians (we do have, after all, two public holidays dedicated to sporting events!), our premier made some much-longed-for announcements re: easing of lockdown restrictions.

We can’t all rush out to celebrate such an announcement and on Grand Final Day next Saturday, we won’t be able to hold big barbeques (a long-held tradition, of course). Retail and hospitality will not be opening for another two weeks (with strict COVID-safe restrictions). So, in keeping with such ongoing restrictions, our response still has had to be somewhat muted … But we can get a haircut today (!) if one can get in. I’m picturing long queues of people, barely recognisable due to facemasks and untamed, uncoloured hair.

And we can now travel 25 kilometres from our homes. Not sure where I would go, but I can! We also are no longer restricted to two hours outside each day.

On this day after the day before, is the world any different? Am I any different?

I felt a bit lighter on my walk this morning. The runners and walkers were still beating the paths. The different small groups having PT sessions in the gardens looked serious and energetic. The Tai Chi group looked as mellow as ever.

For many retailers in my neighbourhood, the promise of opening has come too late. Just last week, two enormous skips turned up in my little one way street. By day’s end, they were laden with garbage bags filled with discarded clothes and all the fittings and chattels required to sell discount clothing. The shop window, bereft of mannequins with funky clothing to attract the younger male, looked as discarded as the skips – boxes, rubbish and a missing sign.

This is the 11th of 17 retail outlets to close in my neighbouring shopping strip, the section also consisting of a hairdresser, bar, gym, Mexican restaurant and pub, all closed. The optometrist and chemist are still trading.

There is still no point planning Christmas visits to relatives in other states, but we can be grateful that our shared deprivations have led to a significant drop in COVID-19 cases. One new case reported on Saturday, two on Sunday and four today.

As I walked this morning, I listened to traditional hymns on Spotify. There is something reassuring about hymns I have known since childhood – Be Thou My Vision, How Great Thou Art, Amazing Grace and one which seemed to especially speak to me today, It is Well with my Soul.

Carlton Gardens, where I walk, is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site, including the Royal Exhibition Building. The gardens are filled with English oaks, white poplar, plane trees, oaks, Moreton Bay figs, conifers, elms, gum trees, cedars and the list goes on. One of my favourites (if that is possible, as they are all magnificent) has a human quality. Perhaps the load had been too heavy, and one of its branches rests on the ground and then presses skyward again.

Melbourne tree

Penny’s favourite tree in Carlton Gardens, Melbourne.

In this protracted time of lockdown, there have been many times when the load seemed unbearable – jobs lost. Children stuck at home. Parents forced to home school and work and run a house and not send the children out to play. Small business owners making heartbreaking decisions to let staff go and then to shut the doors.

However, we have also seen people’s resilience and ingenuity. Acts of kindness. New friendships.

I now go for a walk every fortnight with my neighbour. I was a single friend’s ‘bubble’ (although, as of today, that is no longer in force).

I can see myself in that tree. God has endowed me with gifts and skills to go out into the world, but there are times when I just can’t do it on my own. Like the tree, I need some assistance. He sends others to help me. His spirit is always with me. And while there have been and will continue to be days when I feel defeated, helpless, lacking in will, there are also days when I can sing It is Well with my Soul for my Lord God is present in this and every other joy and struggle that is to come.

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