His gaze against the sweeping of the bars
has grown so weary, it can hold no more.
To him, there seem to be a thousand bars
and back behind those thousand bars no world.
~ The Panther, Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Stanley Appelbaum
I’ve always had an unexplainable love for Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem The Panther, from which the above is the first stanza. But I’ve never been able to identify as much with the panther as I can now - back in quarantine.
It is quite funny that before 2020 I had never even heard of the concept of ‘quarantine’ outside the context of stuffy history books talking about the horrors of the black death. “Funny”, I thought, “how isolating was their way of treating a disease. Hasn’t medicine come far over the years?” Now, in December of 2020, during my third quarantine this year (excluding the mini-quarantines I had to do over the last months because housemates woke up with a bad cough), I think back to my innocent (or foolish?) thoughts.
Quarantine by now becomes something to just consider as a valid part of holiday planning: “If I go home a week early, I’m in quarantine during exam week. I have to sit inside and study then anyway, so it’s a win-win!” Tough, I must admit, there is a considerable difference between staying inside to study for exams and having to stay inside to study. And there’s a difference between going for a relaxing walk after a day of studying and walking back and forth in my parents’ garden, slowly creating a ditch with my steps like a cartoon character that can’t solve a difficult problem.
But there is one considerable difference between me and Rilke’s panther: I have a world to look forward to after the thousand’s bar. We all do. A world of brilliant minds working on vaccines, the first of which have already been distributed. A world of solidarity and support in these difficult times. And, as I sometimes like to think about myself, a world of individuals like me patiently crossing off the days until they can unlock their doors again, step outside into the fresh air, and smile because they know that - however small - they did their part to flatten the curve.
Jesler van Houdt