When the lockdown first began I was quite unnerved by the closed shops and the empty streets.
And I had watched in dismay as the cafes had closed one by one, wondering how on earth I was going to work at home every day, and with a household that had doubled in size. I got used to it very quickly: my ‘smaller’ world; the lovely presence of two of our children (and our eldest, Kieran, calls us most weeks for a family Facebook Messenger Group Chat); the slower, simpler day to day existence. I relished the daily bike rides to the sea and I really got used to having the seafront all to myself, to the point that I resented the returning crowds! I know I mustn’t be selfish (it’s their seaside as well, I suppose!), but I know as well that I’ll need to be gentle with myself as the world returns to some form of ‘normality’.
Routines had to change during the lockdown, and I’ve been struck by how much I haven’t missed. When the garden centres re-opened, Yim Soon and I climbed into the car one Sunday morning to join the queues at our nearest Nursery and I realised that it was the first time in weeks that I’d driven anywhere. I really hadn’t missed it. I have enjoyed working in London, one of the most interesting and vibrant (and green) cities in the world, but I haven’t really missed the daily commute (and those early morning hours are my most creative and productive of the day). I certainly haven’t missed roads filled with traffic. I usually like to travel (and a few special trips have been cancelled) but found that I didn’t really miss that. And I was interested to hear a priest in London tell me that he is normally glued to televised football or GAA sports, or any kind of sport, but hadn’t missed it, and I replied “neither have I; it’s as if all of that belongs to a different world”.
On my way back from the sea one day I bumped into Tony, an old friend from football and a big Liverpool fan. I asked him what he thought should be done about the Premier League this season (with his team needing just two wins from the nine remaining games to secure their first league title in thirty years). “Do you know what, Ed”, he replied, “this might sound strange, but I really don’t care! I’ve met a new woman, I’m in love, and I’m getting paid to do nothing! These have been the best two months of my life”. Wow! This really has been a time to re-evaluate our priorities.
What have I learnt from this time? I’m not sure it has been learning, rather coming to a deeper appreciation of some of those things which bring joy and meaning to my life. I had a lovely little booklet that had been given to people at a St Brigid’s event at the Irish Embassy at the end of January, and I made this my ‘Gratitude Diary’ during the period of the coronavirus. Here are some of the entries:
Birds singing, bees buzzing, morning tea and prayer outside the shed, gorgeous red sky and frost at 6am, trees coming into bloom, nice chat with Miran (our daughter), long bike ride with Sean (our youngest), star-filled sky, Taizé Evening prayer, zoom with a friend, connecting with the team at the Irish Chaplaincy, tulips, two cups of tea and Miran and Sean’s chocolate cake eaten outside the shed at the end of a glorious sunny afternoon, walk in the woods with Yim Soon, skype with mum, blue skies, good day’s work, sound of rainfall, good food, bluebells, garden looking lovely.
There is an entry from April 3rd which made me smile: “reconciliation with Yim Soon after getting annoyed with her at the meal”! (I don’t even remember now what that was about but am thankful that it got sorted out somehow!). And one entry concludes with the line “Another good, simple day”.
The lockdown will come to an end and the coronavirus will, at some point, be fully contained, and I suspect that we’ll return to most (maybe all?) of our pre-virus practices. And I expect that I’ll be happy, in most respects, to do so: cycling down to the station again in the morning to catch the high-speed train to London; flying to interesting places on holiday; meeting people in the flesh; going to the gym; singing with my choir; even sharing the seaside with loads of other people (at least the cafes will be open again).
But I hope that I will continue to take a bit of time each day to sit at the bottom of the garden with a nice cup of tea, listening to the birds; to connect with and cherish my family and friends, to write, to be open to whatever encounter or experience each day will bring. I hope I’ll carry on being content with simple pleasures; and I hope I’ll never again take for granted going into a shop and finding a loaf of bread on the shelf.
Above all, I hope I will be grateful for each and every day, and for whatever is given.