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My daughter Miran was due to fly today to Seoul, and then spend 3 months travelling in Asia.

She was to return to Korea in May to meet up with her mum, as part of Yim Soon’s 60th birthday celebrations (the 60th birthday being a very big event in Korea: historically, people were lucky if they made it that far!). Today is Yim Soon’s actual birthday, the date varying each year according to the lunar calendar. There was a big party due to take place this evening at Faith House, the L’Arche house in Canterbury where we first met 31 years ago. She had requested Irish music, and John-Paul and I were going to revive our old guitar and fiddle combination.

Miran isn’t going to Seoul today; I haven’t caught the train to London (which might as well be on the other side of the world bearing in mind the current state of almost lock-down); and Yim Soon is spending her birthday in quarantine, having a temperature (at least she thinks so; she hasn’t been able to check it, since everywhere is, like with pasta and toilet roll, sold out of thermometers!), and coughing a bit in the night. She is sending me her food and drink orders via FB Messenger, and I deliver to the door! Miran and I, meanwhile, are in self-isolation now for 2 weeks. She’s bitterly disappointed that she’s not on her way to an exotic beach somewhere (and has already announced that self-isolation is “SO BORING”), although for me it’s a gift to have her here at this time.

And it’s St Patrick’s Day! But the parades and events in London and elsewhere were cancelled. Last night was to have been the reception at the Irish Embassy which is always a good do, and the Guinness there is as good as you get in Ireland. A couple of years ago they gave out little sprigs of shamrock for us to pin on. It brought me back to my childhood, when, on St Patrick’s Day, my sister and I would have various green, white and gold badges and floppy bits of shamrock (it was always so floppy: it never really survived the journey from Ireland in an envelope) pinned to us by our mum and sent off to school. It was pretty embarrassing turning up to school each year on March 17th sporting a floppy bit of shamrock, even though (with it being a Catholic school in Coventry) lots of other children were similarly adorned. There’s always so much that can embarrass a child: you don’t need your mum doing additional weird stuff to you! Well, 2 years ago at the Embassy I wore my floppy shamrock with pride, and it even got me into a conversation with a Cork man on the train home from London. It turned out that his wife’s best friend from childhood was someone I knew.

Sadly, our conversations with random strangers, or even with friends and family, will be largely confined now to ‘virtual’ ones. But human beings will adapt: they always have done. And the human spirit is strong. Yes, some people have bought more than they need in the supermarkets (driven to that by the very real anxiety brought about by an unknown threat). But there will also be many unseen acts of kindness, and I’ve heard, for example, of neighbourhood WhatsApp groups been set up to see who in the area needs help. I’ve been touched by pictures of people in Italy, confined to their flats, standing on the balcony and singing the same song as the others in their block. And I came across a lovely video on Facebook, entitled ‘quarantine creativity’ of three Georgian students trapped in their apartment in Italy and singing traditional folk songs from their country with the words changed to things like: “We wash our hands, we wash our face, we wear face masks, and sometimes we swig spirits to scare corona…with god’s grace we will survive this rotten corona!”. See it here

Many people have been touched by a poem called ‘Lockdown’ by the Irish priest-friar, Fr Richard Henrick, and you can read that by clicking: poem

There’s no telling when all of this will end, but end it will and we’ll see what we’ve learnt as individuals and as a society and which of these forced changes in lifestyle we may wish to continue with post-virus. We’ve found out already that we don’t necessarily have to pack ourselves onto a train in the morning to go to work, and that we can cut down on air travel quite easily if we really want to. We’re discovering more and more ways to be connected virtually. But I suspect we’ll find out as well that there really is no perfect substitute for face to face encounter: to be with another person in the flesh, to laugh together, to cry together, to sing together, or just to be silent together. Many isolated people will become even more isolated in the weeks ahead, and it won’t just be the elderly. I think as well that we’ll see afresh how we need to come together as groups, whether that’s singing in a choir, or cycling with a club, or attending a religious service or a lunch club, or going to a concert, or taking part in a parade whilst wearing, with great pride, a floppy bit of shamrock.

May we all look out for one another at this time, may our anxieties not overwhelm us, and may we and our loved ones stay as well and as safe as can be.

St Patrick’s Day greetings and blessings to each of you.

Eddie Gilmore

Author Eddie Gilmore

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