Leaving references to Christian mythology aside, ‘limbo’ is defined by the Concise Oxford Dictionary as ‘an intermediate state or condition of awaiting a decision etc.’ We are unquestionably in a state of limbo, with the etceteras we are waiting for including a lifting of the lockdown and, in particular, a vaccine. When it comes to waiting for an effective antidote to Covid-19, there will be many people in the USA who, as their country’s death toll tops the charts, may feel inclined to consider their particular limbo as meeting one of its less secular definitions: ‘The condition of living on the borders of Hell.’ This is likely to be the more so as their ridiculous President peddles the anti-malaria drug Hydroxychloroquine as the answer. Sadly, ‘living on the borders of Hell’ is probably the definition many of our NHS staff would be likely plump for as they set off to work every day fearful of what the indefensible absence of adequate personal protective equipment might mean for themselves and their loved ones.
One of the difficulties with living in limbo lies with coming to terms with the indeterminacy of the sentence – there can be no equivalent of a count-down Advent calendar; another lies with finding alternative ways of making sure that every single day that passes isn’t wholly indistinguishable from every other day that passes. These were both minor anxieties when, after 43 years, I managed to shake off the habit of going into an office five days a week. Even in retirement, in normal circumstances, one can establish rituals and indulge in interests that at least distinguish weekends from weekdays – from watching sport, to going out to buy croissants on Sunday mornings, to having family come for Sunday lunch. Many of the distinguishing features of weekends were organized for us – the sport, the Sunday newspapers etc; some we generated for ourselves, like the croissants and Sunday lunches. None of that is possible now. We could, of course, mark off the passage of the days and weeks by instituting our own rituals for distinguishing between weekdays and weekends, for example by determining only to drink wine at weekends. At which point I decide that perhaps, after all, it isn’t so very important to make sure that every single day that passes isn’t the same as every other day.