Over the last year there have been many consequences of the social distancing, contact support bubbles and self-isolation behaviours that we have been asked to undertake.
Those of us that live on our own, have started talking to ourselves a little too much – speak for yourself – I’m generalising – you’re blaming me – we’re all in this together – have you put the bins out? – I’m trying to write a post for the blog! – you and that ruddy blog, what is it called? ‘Fingering yer footnails’? my mother warned me about you!
Apologies for that…where was I? Ah yes…too much time alone.
If your cupboards and wardrobes aren’t de-cluttered and reorganised now, I’m here to tell you they never will be. The traditional home making skills of cooking, D-I-Y, gardening, etc, have all had an upsurge of new enthusiasts who may have thought their lives too busy before. These are generalities of course because there have been many hardworking souls in a variety of critical fields who may never have been busier during this time – most obviously those in healthcare. But all of us, I think it’s fair to say, have experienced on some level the consequences of people isolating themselves from each other.
With the prospect of restrictions being eased over the coming weeks, you can hear the anticipation in people’s chatter on phone-in radio shows, in the shops or over a garden fence; they would just like to get out and mix again with others in whatever scenario that may be. Such a simple thing, 12 months ago we would have hardly given a thought to it.
Cases are on the rise in Europe, and the government is talking of when the third wave will be upon on us, not if, so the whole situation is still fluid; Man proposes, God disposes, goes the adage. But for now, people are thinking of seeing friends and families once again.
I think, and I know I’m not on my own, that the whole Covid episode to date has taught us all so much. Those that have been directly affected by losing family or friends would be dealing with their own personal loss of course, for the rest of us, the more prosaic concerns of having a lot more time spent on our own than is usual.
The effect of this, dependant on individual circumstances, has been a variety of outcomes. Those within cities and high rise living probably feel that confinement most acutely. For those of us who are fortunate enough to have access to some open spaces and more specifically nature; this has been a real lifeline. Nature and the natural world not only has been appreciated a lot more by people for its benefits, but the very act of reducing human activity, flora and especially fauna have filled those voids really quite quickly, to blossom in the quieter times.
Human contact; emotional, physical and spiritual, is more important than we had previously considered – its absence in our lives has brought that into sharp focus. It is a natural state for people to mix together, share the labours of the day, the sorrows and the joys, the banal and the sublime.
We all live inside our own heads, it takes interaction with others sometimes to show us where, and who we are. Those who have suffered mental depression or anxieties, these may have been exacerbated during the recent times of isolation. Negative thoughts have a tendency to feed on themselves left to rattle around on their own. The simplest exchange with a cheery soul can help break a cycle of thought that might be playing on a loop in the brain. Even the opposite, you may be feeling sorry for yourself, and encountering another passing pilgrim with problems that leave yours in the shade; you may part with a little more perspective of what has befallen you than before you met them.
In truth, we are all found a little wanting sometimes. We may have a day where we make poor decisions; but if we are open to this possibility, and don’t allow the ego to rise to the surface to herald that we don’t make mistakes!, we can learn from this. This usually involves other people one way or another. A good friend will not interfere unrequested, not attempt to fix us, that is our work to do, our responsibility and our learning to be done; but with a true friend the touch will be softer than that. To be there for someone is to simply have time for someone, and support them with truth when they ask you.
Physical touch is much more than what it says on the tin. It commutes with it far more than what the body can feel. Somebody said on the radio recently, “I just want a hug”. Within that is conveyed the seed of care, concern and silent recognition of the inter-connectedness of all of us.
At our most lowest points, maybe even when sitting with a loved one in their final hours before they return Home; and the time for words has passed, touch then is more important than ever. I sat, in turn with my brothers and sisters, by my mother’s bedside in her final days. She drifted in and out of consciousness, the fantastic staff helping her with her pains and discomfort. To be able to hold or stroke the back of her hand, and moisten her lips with damp cotton wool as she was by then nil-by-mouth, was just about the greatest privilege of my life. Regardless of the physical shape she was in, she was at peace. The times she asked for a drink and, although I would have run through a wall to give her a drink of water, I could only moisten her lips with the swab, she would still say “You are so kind”. It moves me to this day thinking of those memories. In truth, they were rare, rare moments to have shared; all her troubles were behind her; we spoke of where she was headed – she had acceptance, it was quite beautiful. I asked her if she was scared, and she whispered with a gentle smile “No”. It was like a final gift for me.
I remember too at Sean, my older brother’s funeral when I was fifteen, I was walking out of the chapel after the mass, when a family friend a few years older than me, was crying and as I passed him, a bit numb from it all, he looked me in the eyes and put out his hand and took my arm and squeezed it. There were no words exchanged but I was grateful for the contact. Maybe some on that day found it awkward and looked away, but there was no intrusion in what this friend did; just a real connection of concern which I never forgot.
Some ten years later or so, I was at the funeral in the same church of my mother’s friend and the mother of a girl I classed with at school. I happened to be on the aisle seat towards the back of the church. As the mass ended and the family were filing out, the memory came back to me and I wanted to offer the same touch of concern to my friend that I had received. As she passed me, crying her tears of loss, I reached out and held her arm for a moment. She grabbed my hand and squeezed it; we exchanged that shared look of connection. I have seen her since and she was very happy to see me, so I hope she took from the experience what I had done. I felt a little like I had passed on something that had been given to me in a moment of need.
This piece didn’t start out as one to look at the end of life experience, but my thoughts about touch have surfaced these memories in my mind. Maybe, they are just good examples of times when words have run their course, but we can still offer something of ourselves to another, especially when they need it the most.
So, back to the pubs being open…I mean essential local services! How long it will last we don’t know. One thing is for sure though, all things in this world do come to an end eventually; nothing last forever, good or bad – and this virus is the latter obviously. So one day we will finally return to a, maybe changed world, but we might just value the shared experience of others and the simplicity of human touch much more than once we did.
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main.”From John Donne’s Devotions (1624)