Neil Oliver: Freedom Day? More like Groundhog Day

'I have experienced enough of life to know that I am in mourning – in mourning for the life I used to live and, unforgivably, took for granted.'

Published Last updated

So here we are again, on the threshold of another day called Freedom.

I don’t know about you, but I’m more inclined to call it Groundhog Day.

I am sure – and in this I speak only for myself - that it means nothing but more of the same. In any event, I am surer still that whatever it is, that day will dawn with the ticking of a clock – a clock counting down the days to the next lockdown.

These have been months like no others I have ever experienced before. Well over a year now of restrictions and new laws, the steady erosion of our liberties.

I think about how I’m feeling and know that in amongst a cocktail of emotions, what I feel most strongly is grief. I have experienced enough of life to know that I am in mourning – in mourning for the life I used to live and, unforgivably, took for granted. The old world I knew has suffered the death of a thousand cuts, slowly bleeding out.

I am saddened beyond words by the thought my children will not know the world I knew, the freedoms I took for granted. They will adapt of course. That’s one of the things we tell ourselves, isn’t it – children will adapt. I am sure they will, but the truth is I don’t want them to have to. A dog can learn to walk again on three legs, but it’s still a three-legged dog.

Another feeling I have is that of having closed my eyes one day on one world – one reality – and opening them upon another. The world I knew has vanished, like morning mist evaporated by the heat of the sun. The world I knew has been replaced by another that, at first glance, looks a lot like the old one. But it’s not the same. A Madame Tussaud’s waxwork of a real person. Good, but only a waxwork.

It’s a poor reflection of the life of before, like that to be had in a trick mirror in a funhouse – except this has not been fun, of course.

So much has changed.

I am especially troubled by the use of language.

Most recently I have been hearing it said that the wearing of a mask, even after so-called Freedom Day, will be an act of compassion. Compassion. The message is that compassionate people will wear masks for the sake of others who feel frightened by unmasked people.

What about compassion for people whose mental health has been eroded by the very wearing of masks?

What about those for whom the absence of faces and their replacement by the legion of the masked has been profoundly troubling?

Why does compassion only cut one way?

What I'm saying is - wear a mask if you want to, but allow for those that can't bear to wear one a moment longer.

Compassion is a two-way street, after all.

For me it beggar’s belief that the millions are being told they should cover their faces, as much as possible, and, as far as anyone might reasonably predict, forever.

Ours is a species that reads the faces of others in order to be a functioning part of the group.

We do it consciously and unconsciously. We read countless cues from one another that tell us how to behave. We live peaceably among the crowds because we can tell with the merest of glances at another’s face, how that other person is likely to behave towards us.

This is why we have so many references to faces in the language we use every day: face up to it … put a brave face on it … face the music … face facts … face the truth … I just can’t face him today … as plain as the nose on your face … face to face … say it to her face … on and on, countless acknowledgments that our faces reveal the truth of us, even when we would rather they didn’t.

I have found the sea of masks close to unbearable myself. I have watched my children in their masks and felt that I have let them down, somehow.

It has been said by others, wiser than me, that there is a new religion among us. The NHS is the church and we are the congregation. We must give thanks and pay our tithes.

What matters first and foremost, is the church, the mother church. This isn't about NHS workers - who are simply out there working hard and getting the job done.

But the institution of the NHS, for which we pay with our hard-earned taxes, must be there to serve us, to save us, and not the other way around.

The new religion is divisive. There are apparently good people and sinners. There are followers of the true faith and there are heretics.

Now we are told the good people, the followers of the true faith, will reveal themselves and show compassion by wearing their masks – even after months of knowing masks are said by many, many scientists and doctors to do nothing whatever to prevent the spread of the virus.

That is by the by, of course.

Whether the masks work or not is no longer the point it seems. What we are told now is that good people wear masks and bad people don’t.

It’s as simple as that.

Good and bad.

Compassionate and cruel.

That a government and their advisors would entertain such a message is a behaviour that might be described many ways.

What it is not, is compassionate.