What is life? (A 2020–21 Victorian lament)

Andrew Huang
Med J Aust 2021; 215 (11): 544-544. || doi: 10.5694/mja2.51339
Published online: 13 December 2021


What is life if you can’t go to work?
“Better than death,” I hear some smirk.
“I stand with Dan,1 stay at home, stay inside.”
But what if your room is only 2 metres wide?
An hour to exercise outdoors you may2
And go to the park where the kids cannot play.3,4
“That’s stage four. It’s for your good, get a grip.”
The police are outside5 cracking C.H.O.’s whip.6

So where are we now, united as one?7
The rich catch their yachts to have fun in the sun.8
The borders are closed,9 and so are the schools10
So parents at home are relaxing the rules.
“In front of the television; just sit there!”
“Fail grade 1? … the devil may care.”
So what is life, if you’re not really working?
Be careful what’s said, Big Brother is lurking!

So what is death in these pandemic times?
Consider what’s written in the following lines:
Is it confinement to room with no air on your face?
With no friend to hug, and not leaving your place?
Is it crushing debt, and losing your job?11
With head in hands, ready to sob?
Is it purpose lacking, and absence of meaning?
Is there more to life than simply breathing?

The scientists say, “Just look at the numbers!”12
But look at the calendar, look at the slumbers.13,14
The time spent in lockdown, the time isolate’
Are times that one could spend with a mate
Or friend, or fam’ly, or community.
How long must we wait for immunity?
So what is death if you can’t go to work?
“Better than ‘life’,” I hear some smirk.



  • Andrew Huang1,2

  • 1 Austin Health, Melbourne, VIC
  • 2 University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC



This poem attempts to capture the lived experience and frustrations of those non‐essential workers confined to their homes under lockdown measures due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID‐19) pandemic. It was originally composed in August–September 2020 during the despair of the second lockdown in Melbourne, Victoria. In December 2021, the writing feels more pertinent to me given the evolving nature of the COVID‐19 response in Australia that we have witnessed over the past 18–24 months. With Christmas cheer, I am hopeful it does not become What is life? (A 2020–22 Australian lament). My thanks go to my non‐health care worker friends who reviewed the manuscript and provided feedback.

Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.


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