At first they nodded and smiled as usual on our daily walks. Nothing unusual there, it’s our neighbourhood.
But then the pandemic arrived and didn’t leave. For a few days we were confused and offered the same greetings, though we all knew nothing would ever be the same.
Soon after, we watched PM Jacinda go to her podium to address the nation with sincerity, a sense of urgency – and two words: ‘be kind’. If nothing else was certain in the new world of COVID-19, then it was this phrase which created a mantra many remembered as we went about life in the new normal.
The more the crisis deepened, the more her two compassionate words turned into actions. Neighbours followed the rules and we now passed each other at the prescribed social – distance, though we met with more warmth. The official advice may have separated us but it also evoked more effusive, if slightly self-conscious greetings.
“Social distance, social distance” we often joked as we passed each other on generous berms. A year earlier my wife had bought a T-shirt in Oz with an eerily apt slogan: Ew, People! it said – provoking more chuckles. And in these encounters. we began to feel a recovering sense of community.
The PM’s phrase took root as young people asked us if asked if we needed anything from the besieged outposts of supermarkets, where panic pulled some apart. But while that was happening a young mother living in the flat above our steep driveway told us not to struggle up to the road pulling our rubbish bin. “My husband will do that for you” she said firmly. Then the same day, a young friend from years ago, remembered us, and turned up at our door with roses.
All of this was humbling – kindness was being practised, even lavished on us. But The Elderly, hmm… not a word we thought would apply to us, not the once-upon- a-time ‘60s Swingers.
Still, with daily warnings that our generation was most at risk of catching COVID -19, we finally grasped the reality – we were old (okay we’ll settle for Elderly!) But those two little words from the PM, helped in a small way to shift us towards a society where values like kindness came before money.
Her comment not only promoted, neighbourly kindness, but told us that although we might be old, we mattered.