I didn't expect the plateau stage would be the hardest to get through. The numbers of new cases that should have gone down by now form a roughly constant, slightly fluctuating line. The sensation is of being blocked, without solution, suspended on the wall. Day after day after day after day. This is what makes me have nightmares about the pandemic, for the first time.
Psychologically, I'm a bit more stable nonetheless. My trouble with concentration has lessened. I've even managed to evaluate a habilitation candidate. Therefore, I've earned enough to buy food this month. The perspective of asking my husband to pay for my living is still years away. Nonetheless, I miss having income again, and more than this, being a university professor again. A serious person, a solvent citizen, someone important, not a mere shadow on the wall descending stealthily, face covered with a scarf, in search of a flask of wine, a piece of roasted chicken and a provision of instant soup. A pauper and a refugee in the city of paupers and refugees.
I have internalised those lessons in Christianity only too well. I am a master of humility. But there is something else I would like to learn: to be a solvent citizen in my own Europe.
My ticket home has been cancelled; home is no more. I've got a KLM voucher to book any new flight, whenever I want. I have those unrealistic dreams I might go to Bali with it. Or to Maldives. Or to Singapore. My husband likes to see maritime cruises; it is his old dream to go on it. Although of course, a ship during an epidemic is the last place to spend one's vacation. But mentally we are in a post-pandemic world where everything is just luxury, brightness and comfort once again.
There has been only a small distance between a dream and a project to come true in my life, these last ten or twenty years. Everything was close at hand. A fanciful marriage, expensive travels, academic career, sky was the limit. The main obstacles were inside, in me, the frontiers of my internalised identity, the limitations of my creativity, my insufficient braveness in occupying the world.
I still have dreams as targets, to affirm myself on the top of international academe, to buy a house in the Netherlands, to acquire Dutch citizenship. The fact of having lost a country (the authoritarian takeover going on in Eastern Europe) has more of an opportunity than of calamity. Hardly more than a month ago, I was seriously thinking about reinstating myself as a professor at the Jagiellonian University. The worse of all conceivable ideas indeed, even worse than that of spending our vacation on board of one of those cruisers! The crisis forced me to cut the remaining links to that old reality that I had failed to leave behind just by myself. Even as I was in Leiden, I was still thinking about Eastern Europe, working for it, placing my papers there. As if my mind stack to it with some sort of immaterial glue. As if I couldn't do any other way.
If Poland is the game, the only winning strategy is NOT TO PLAY. I cannot say that the current developments surprise me. Nonetheless, I did play the game for many years, without seriously expecting any other outcome than the one that the current crisis made patent. The only reason was my mental inability of conceiving any better game, living any other life. I dedicated decades to a mistaken cause, in which I didn't even believe.
Well, other things did happen in my life as well. Good things. Things worth living. Things to which I remain faithful. Things that are enough to keep me alive. I cannot claim to have lost everything, far from that. And I have those targets. To go to Oxford, to buy a house in Leiden, to get Dutch citizenship, to occupy a decent place in the international academia, to spend the rest of my life in my library, among my books, among the curios brought from my travels. To live as a solvent citizen in my own Europe. An erudite. A university professor.
The pandemic did not teach me wisdom. It only taught me to stick even closer to those things I always believed worth having.