Some weeks back I remember seeing a politician speak on TV about a potential public health scare. At the time I didn’t quite understand why, but his demeanour really unsettled me.
I realised as events unfolded over the following few weeks, that he probably knew then what many of us took a little longer to grasp – the severity of the situation that was unfolding. I can see now that I felt quite anxious about what was coming.
Each time I heard someone say we will get through this I had that dreaded feeling that surely we all know we won’t all get through this. So many of my loved ones fall into the at-risk categories or work in the healthcare sector or both. It feels like there is too much to lose. And none of that loss feels bearable.
At a time where so much felt beyond control I did the only thing I could do … I launched an attack on my kitchen cupboards. Despite the disarray of much of the rest of my house, I found comfort in knowing that at least my food cupboards were orderly. I once mentioned this to someone as being (one of) my methods of maintaining some semblance of control in what can sometimes feel like a crazy world.
As part of their response they alluded to the fact that not all people see the need to keep jars, tins etc. facing in one direction and in date order. I’m not sure I slept very well that night at that prospect …. so I chose to decide that maybe they were joking !
And then our world started to slow down.
This past week is the first one where at times I forget why we are all home. But then I remember again.
Books are being read, games are being played, movies are being watched, (some) schoolwork is being done, arguments are being refereed. I must buy a whistle.
One day I was struck by the fact that perhaps nowhere in the world was there that glorious sound of live music and singing voices belting out of a stadium. Nowhere was there the sound of thousands of sports fans cheering on sportspeople. I think that was when the magnitude of this hit home for me.
Usually around this time of year, a new challenge creeps in for parents of young kids. Bright evenings. Kids want to stay out late playing and invariably we let bedtimes drag a little later, mornings are that little bit more of a struggle and a few more tantrums creep in. Sometimes even the kids have tantrums too!
But not this year. Our doorbell no longer rings. It’s been weeks since I’ve heard that much used expression – can so and so come out to play? It’s been weeks since we’ve shared a weekend meal with friends and smiled as their little people make themselves comfortable in our home, strolling over to a cupboard to take out ‘their cups’.
And then time started to pass.
Soon we learn that actually of course music carries on, as do sports … just in a different way.
There are gorgeous initiatives like ‘Couch Choir’ encouraging us to continue to sing. Which many of us do. Famous singers are live streaming ‘concerts’ in aid of well deserving charities. Families and Healthcare workers are uploading videos of themselves singing and dancing. I’ve picked up my guitar more over the past couple weeks than I had in a long time. My youngest has started playing tunes on the keyboard – a new departure indeed.
Challenges to practise hurling and football skills arrive via text from GAA groups. We have dusted down our badminton rackets and shuttlecocks for the back garden. My son looked surprised one day when I joined him on the trampoline. He asked me can I do a ‘front flip’ !?!
I assured him that if he ever saw me doing any sort of a flip, that it wouldn’t be on purpose and that he’d need to get help.
I love that my Mom who lives in the city had a phone call from her neighbour offering to do her shopping for her, the same neighbour who quietly swept a safe path for her through the snow a couple years back. The same neighbour who knows none of Mom’s kids live locally.
I feel for lots of people in lots of situations. I feel for those who have had to cancel plans to go see loved ones abroad, for those who worry about their families … not knowing when they will next see them. I feel for those due to finish school in the next couple of months, that they might not get to do so in the way we are all so accustomed to. That they may feel a little less prepared for whatever they next move onto.
I feel for those who put themselves at risk every day for us. And for their families who I’m sure watch them for symptoms every day.
I feel deeply for those living in abusive situations, who might crave a return to normality, their normality. I hope they know there are people who want to support them and that it is ok to reach out.
I feel for those that live alone and those that feel cut off from their loved ones … the sheer loneliness that many must feel.
It isn’t always easy to tell someone we feel lonely or that we don’t feel ok or that we need help. I hope more and more of us learn that we don’t have to say ‘grand’ when asked how we are. That is ok to say ‘actually not great today’.
I believe the greatest gift we can give each other is to listen, to really listen … to resist the urge to try to fix things, to empower people to find their own way through. We can still do that. Even now. Maybe even all the more now.
I mentioned once in a discussion with trusted people that I have become much more comfortable in myself as I have got older, much less concerned with things that once concerned me. Someone commented how they felt the opposite, more unsure of themselves. To me, to be able to say that, to be able to show that vulnerability is in itself a show of strength. Brené Brown says that ‘Vulnerability is our greatest measure of courage’. And I agree!
I have realised lots of things these past few weeks.
I’ve realised that to walk into a room of people and sit together and chat was in fact a privilege.
To sing with others was a privilege.
To be able to go for a walk, in fresh air, with people I want to spend time with was also a privilege.
To live within minutes of the coast is an absolute joy … sadly not within 2km though … no matter how far I tilt my map.
Last Summer my family had an incredible get together for my Mom’s 80thbirthday. Every one of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren were there, along with our lovely spouses. It was a rare, rare event and we knew how special it was. Little did we know though just how precious those memories and photos would turn out to be. I often think of that day now when we are all apart. The only thing to do is plan another one … I’ve told my family I need them all to be there … so they all need to keep well.
And now … well now to stay at home in a house with my three favourite people, one of whom I married and two who we created, in a house where we have room to quarantine if one of us becomes unwell is a privilege.
To have a back garden where we can play is a privilege.
To be able and allowed to work from home is a privilege.
To have a teenage son who has voluntarily taken on the role of my walking partner is a privilege.
I think there is always hope. I have huge faith in teachers. I believe they will know in September that their new first year students perhaps hadn’t the same preparation they might otherwise have had. I know they will notice, I know they will care and I know they will do all within their power to help settle young people into school life once more. Sports coaches and music teachers will know that their students might all be a little rusty. I will have a new recruit (in the form of my youngest son) for our lovely piano teacher so I’m excited about that.
I look at the energy and creativity and goodwill that this time has uncovered. I look at the mobilising of community initiatives and above all I hope that maybe just maybe some of them will last longer than the awful circumstances in which they have been created.
Imagine a society where we always looked out for the vulnerable, not just at times of crisis.
Perhaps in time some of the ingenuity, passion and drive that we see now could be used to tackle some of the other injustices in our country.
Someone I know who knows stuff said that the reason why so many are galvanised to act now is that every single one of us has something to gain, or indeed something to lose. I get that. But I also think that maybe life was hurtling on at such a pace that many felt like something was missing. That something had to give. Maybe we are ready to be a little more honest about what really matters.
Winnie the Pooh (who I adore) says ‘Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart’.
I once did a course on Safeguarding of Vulnerable Adults. I was struck by something one of our Tutors said … she said that on a given day any one of us can be a vulnerable person … depending on what is going on for us, on how we are feeling. What a lovely way of looking at it. I think maybe if we all believed that – maybe we might be a little kinder to one another.
There has been and will be so much loss out of this crisis … wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could glean a little hope by holding onto some of that generosity of spirit and allowing it to blossom. That we might together be a little stronger to face whatever life throws as us in the future … individually and as one.
So much feels like it is outside of our control. But as we are told so often we are not powerless.
We can help. We can stay at home.
Some of this in our hands. So let’s wash them and keep them at home.