The Closed Shutter House

I think I noticed during renovations, before we even moved in: the window shutter of the house across the street was always closed. At first, I assumed it was vacant – either the inhabitants were on holiday, either it was in-between tenants. But soon, I realised I could see through the slats: the light was on in the front room. Why was the shutter closed? Maybe it broke and they could not lift it anymore? Where were the inhabitants though? I never saw anybody. It was months before a delivery to their door allowed me to catch a glimpse of an older lady in her robe, that long to realise her son who was maybe in his thirties lived there too; a full year to actually see her outside and have the opportunity to say “Hello”. She is not a cheerful person; she is more of the archetypical grumpy old lady when you see her from afar but she did answer back. She was civil and it was OK. I did hear a story about her and I did have an idea of who she voted for – suffice to say I doubted she was left-winged, but as long as she greeted me back, I would not judge her; people change their mind and maybe she had.

It has been more than 10 days since we isolated in Belgium. For the last few days, every night at 8, we go to our windows or doorstep and we applaud people working in healthcare. They don’t hear us, we’re not facing a hospital, but it makes us feel we are actually doing something. I applaud for them, for the supermarket, warehouse, truck company workers; for everybody who’s facing this pandemic while I am asked to stay in the comfort of the house I own, with central heating, running water, full cupboards, fridge and freezer.
On the first night, I forgot about it so I set up a reminder on my phone. On the second night, we were there at 7.58 with my nearly 6-year-old. As we were waiting, a neighbour across us just happened to open his door to have a look outside. We were talking when the church bell stroke and I interrupted him:

– It’s time to clap!
– To what? Oh… it’s for the people who…

And he started clapping with me. He had to, I was right there. His kids showed up, wondering what he was doing. We kept at it. When we stopped, I heard clapping in the distance. I looked up and down the street. There was nobody but us. We were disappointed with my daughter, but we said we would go back the next day. I exchanged texts with a friend living further down: it was a date.
The next day, we were 3 at home. We were punctual and loud. The neighbour from the night before opened his door and started clapping. I heard my friend and her family down the street. She took a few steps so we could see each other and wave. We clapped and we could hear at least one more household clapping up the street. And the closed shutter house door opened. The old lady looked around, understood what was happening and started clapping. Her son’s girlfriend – I assume she is – joined her at the door and started clapping too. Then we stopped. We waved and smiled at each other.

– Have a nice evening!
– You too.

A night later, more people joined; somebody from an attic room window was making the best of it, I could only see their arms and hands. Some cheered. Last night, the old lady, her son and the girlfriend had been waiting, I think. We all clapped in unison, for people who cannot hear us but we do it in one voice, one getting stronger as more neighbours join us; it is the sound of community.

I have seen posts on social media: “I will not applaud. Those who clap voted for the politics who made cuts in healthcare”.
Well, it’s your prerogative, I’ll respect it but I for one will continue applauding. I will clap no matter what political colour you are. I will clap because there are people I am applauding who I would not agree with on everything, I am sure. I will clap because, pandemic or not, I will not judge someone by one poor choice – or what I consider a poor choice.

I will clap because at 8pm every night, we are one whether we live with open shutters or not.


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