Eleven months of living differently

As I write this the snow still lies fairly deep outside, especially on the northern side of my home where the low winter sun does not yet reach ground level. The snow drops are struggling to push their way up through the snow and show their faces before the next snows fall. The winter has been a tough one with more snow than usual and the shadows cast by COVID-19 often feeling dark.

Today marks exactly 11 months, that is 337 whole days since I closed the door to keep Covid out and entered this new and different world. As we move through February, I feel the days gradually stretching and welcome those promises of spring in the garden just like I did 11 months ago. While we are still under lockdown, there are changes. The vaccine rollout and hopefully my own appointment perhaps only a few weeks away now? New and improved treatments making Covid a little less feared. Relative longevity of the virus and illness brings greater research and analysis which means we understand more. While I might not be sure when I can venture further, it feels within touching distance, very unlike the start of this pandemic.

Yesterday, the eve of this 11 month anniversary was a day like most others. So I was surprised when there was a knock at the door. It was the Postie with an intriguing package marked ‘fragile’. I was puzzled as I had not ordered anything and I had no idea what it was. I wondered if I might have ordered myself a treat and forgotten? This happens occasionally with books, but not with other items.

I ripped it open, bursting with curiosity and not a lot of the patience which I am meant to be practising this year. Then I noticed a tiny misspelling of my name on the box. I might be forgetful, but I do know how to spell my own name so this was a helpful clue that this was not from myself!

Inside the package I discovered a classy gift box containing some Very Posh and Luxurious Scented Candles. Someone who knows me well had sent this. I hunted in the package and the gift box itself but there was no clue of who had organised this. There was, however, a card from the company they came from with website details and a Glasgow number. I knew that it was highly unlikely that the company would tell me who had ordered the good, but unable to think of any other option I dialled the number. The call was answered by a dad rescuing the receiver from his daughter, and so I asked if I had reached the right number and that was the candle company. It was indeed, a blend of home schooling and running a company in Covid times. I explained that I had received a gift, was rather embarrassed that I didn’t know who it was from and wondered if they could tell me. Not expecting for a minute that they could.

“Was it a gift box”? he asked. I confirmed that it was.

“Aw right, that was ‘R’ ” he told me. My son. (Or at least his initial, just to protect anonymity 😉 )

It turns out that the owner of the company is a pal of my son and he runs this business along with his wife. They are a small local business and like so many have adapted to creative and flexible ways of operating.  Together with my son they had brought a ray of sunshine to my day, the eve of the eleven months of isolation. An act of kindness and thoughtfulness reaching more than one.

This was intended as a reminder that brighter days are indeed ahead and that although we might be in the same place, we are in a very different place too. I have so much to be thankful for.

Stepping gently into 2021 with three little words

As the sun rose on this first day of 2021, I could almost hear a collective sigh of relief as 2020 moved into our past.  For sure this has been a year that none of us will forget and one that we will remember with a mix of emotions. A year which shocked us to the core, exposing the world’s vulnerabilities and inequalities while bringing countless examples of dedication, selflessness and incredible courage amidst the destruction of COVID-19

When I selected my three words a year ago, I had no inkling of what 2020 would bring and the very different lives we would be leading throughout the year. On Hogmanay last year, I landed in Edinburgh after a a few days visiting Prague, a dream which I had held for decades. I would bring in the New Year in my new home in Scotland. Little did I know that I would spend every single night in my new home since then, a whole uninterrupted year under the same roof.

In October I reflected on the words I selected a year ago, oblivious to what lay ahead. I was particularly taken to read my thoughts as the year started:

“We all have light in us that shines, and we all have the potential to make things glisten. This encourages me to be creative, solution focused and optimistic, and to keep my eyes open for those tiny, extraordinary moments we can miss when our minds and thoughts are dark”.

How important that was to be as we entered isolation and lockdown in March, and I focused in especially on new priorities, and taking delight in the new discoveries which the passing seasons gifted in my garden. The fact that the words proved to be so eerily apt, was an affirmation of this practice of choosing a three word mantra.

Selecting three words this year brings a new dimension, knowing that the months ahead will see continued challenge as the new strains of COVID-19 and winter fragility test us to the limits. It has been strange to choose my words with COVID-19 looming large, and I have been striving to see beyond the immediacy yet I find it impossible to ignore it. The bigger picture sees COVID-19 very much embedded in it.

I trust that my words will carry me through any eventuality, whilst acknowledging the significant one of COVID-19 underpins a great deal. As always, there has been a great deal of thought and deliberation over several weeks, with numerous variations being tried and tasted as this mantra has taken its final shape. And now, my three words are ready to share. The three words to guide and protect me through 2021 are:

Patience, calibration and stardust

Patience

My first word  is patience. This reminds me that a great deal is out of our hands, yet we have to take charge of how we handle what happens to us. Similar to that cancer diagnosis of 2009, when I quickly realised that while I could not control the diagnosis and its implications, there were many options open to me in how I responded. We need continued patience in these covid times as solutions and improvement take time to reach the wider community. We have been living in isolation and fear for months already, and we need to be patient as medical science brings solutions to the most vulnerable first and gradually reaches more widely.

While this is not purely about covid and is much more widely applicable, it is hard to see beyond this. Patience brings with it the suggestion of kindness and respect. We have been living in a protracted crisis and this has brought out the best and worst in us. This is challenging us in ways we could not have imagined and many of us are struggling. The magnitude of this pandemic means that it is hard to lean on others as we know they are also being tested to the limits of their resilience. So we need to be patient with each other, kind to each other and respectful. And in particular we need to be patient and kind to ourselves.

I am again reminded that as I face new and different challenges, I need to let go of that urge to have all the answers to hand. These months have tested my health and I need to be patient as answers and, hopefully, solutions are identified. I need to be guided by the natural world on my doorstep and learn how to be patient.

Calibration

My second word is calibration and is also brought to the surface by the covid context. Like many others I am highly appreciative that I have my own safe space, and I have been able to continue working. However, this new predominantly online world has brought a contradiction. Thanks to Zoom and other platforms, we have been able to carry on with most of our tasks and activities both professionally and personally. My book group and writing group soon moved online, and were critical to my mental well-being particularly during the early months of isolation. And indeed, there were added bonuses that were only possible online. Our book group were able to invite the writers and translators of some of the books we were reading – so much easier to ask an author to pop into a Zoom call for half an hour from several hundred miles away.

Gradually though, I have found that many hours online, initially in an unsuitable space (the kitchen) brought aches, pains and a weariness that saw a shift in balance. I am not alone in finding it hard to join an online group in the evening after a day of Zooming. I found myself increasingly Zoom-scunnered (not a word I want to take into 2021) and creative activities, especially writing, have suffered.

Calibration will remind me to keep a close eye on maintaining a healthy balance and fine-tuning regularly to ensure that the wires do not snap if they become too taut. I am eager to retain this renewed sense of what matters most and embrace those everyday, simple treasures. This year has shown us how fragile we are, as well as how strong we are.

Stardust

I have long found the expression “we are all made of stardust” to be intriguing and I have never really sought to properly understand it. I just hold on to that wonderful idea that we are all somehow magical and other-worldly. For some reason, I have kept returning to this word as I have been shaping my three word mantra. And that has entailed trying to find out what it actually means. Happily, Professor Google has enlightened me and explains the detail in this article, and notes in particular that:

“most of the material that we’re made of comes out of dying stars, or stars that died in explosions. And those stellar explosions continue. We have stuff in us as old as the universe, and then some stuff that landed here maybe only a hundred years ago. And all of that mixes in our bodies.”

Being made of stardust both reduces and elevates us. It reminds us that we are very much part of the natural order. This is an important equaliser as we are all composed of the same matter. Yet it also makes us feel special, each of us is a star in our own right.

We know that the stars become visible once the sky darkens and gazing into the night sky is hypnotizing. Covid may have brought a great deal of darkness, yet we do not have to look far to see a universe full of stars. As we move forward into 2021, stardust reminds me to see beyond the darkness and to delve deep to find that stardust that we are made from. It is in each of us. As we look up at the night sky, we are reminded that we are tiny and insignificant in the universe and that nature is incredibly powerful. My mantra will remind me that each of us is unique and extraordinary, yet ordinary. Consistently contradictory. And we dwell in a shared universe.

The promise of spring, a sign of hope in the snow

Now my three words are in place, and I am ready to move forward into 2021, with patience, calibration and stardust in and at my heart. May the year be kinder to us all.