Father Iain McKillop
Due to the ‘lock-down’ I find myself marooned in Suffolk with less access to technology than at home in Surrey – no phone-line or internet, weak mobile reception. I’m not complaining; it’s beautiful. Thankfully we have a radio, a warm thatched roof, fields for walking, good weather, plenty of books, CDs, a small local shop and friendly neighbours we know well, who all help one another and offer to collect shopping.
The change in national circumstances has made me reconsider the things I value. I’ve noticed nature in far more detail: the courtship of birds in the garden, the song of the blackbird and chaffinch celebrating their territory, the shapes of spring buds and flowers – primroses are more abundant this year and a wood, recently planted by the junior school with local volunteers is growing. From my window I notice the people walking by on their daily exercise, only a few of whom I know and I pray for their safety through the epidemic. On my daily walk, rather than ignoring one another, though 10 feet apart, we wave as strangers, wishing each other well. Many families are inventing ways to play and entertain themselves together, though sadly the news tells of situations of abuse increasing under such strained circumstances. I feel grateful when a mundane product is available in the shop. (We at last found flour yesterday!) I guess those of you who remember war-time rationing have become nostalgic!
I hope that the limitations on travel are temporarily cleaning the atmosphere and people are being more careful not to waste scarce resources. Here’s hoping that when the virus passes society will retain sensitivity protect the environment and steward resources more wisely. Yet somehow I expect many will return to its self-centred ways fairly quickly. It’s wonderful to hear of so many examples of volunteering. A café-owner in a town nearby is delivering seventy main meals to elderly residents daily. A local church collects the unsold food and products from local businesses and distributes them. But sadly you hear of some unscrupulous sharks using the situation to defraud or abuse others. In Bungay a well-dressed business-man snatched the last toilet roll from the hands of an elderly lady, but thankfully a passing rugby-player gently ‘showed him the error of his ways’ and other shoppers applauded. People at last are becoming more careful of their health, recognising the seriousness of the situation. It is still fairly early-on in the lock-down. We know that the epidemic and its social and financial consequences are sure to deteriorate further before they improve. We need to maintain care and be realistic but we also need to think of positive issues to rebalance and enhance the situation. Pressure can bring the best or worst out of people. Let’s exercise the spiritual gift of self-discipline to ensure we do the best we can.
I give thanks for the creativity of the public. Perhaps the government and professional bodies addressed the situation rather too late. We are not as well equipped to face the disaster as we might and discover that we cannot always trust official assurances. That’s a learning situation for them, but we mustn’t dwell on blame. Many in our communities are demonstrating special qualities of humanity and creative innovation, enhancing isolated people’s experiences. The imaginative work being set by teachers and institutions to entertain and educate over the internet is special. Museums, galleries, orchestras. theatres and libraries are creating similar alternative provisions for adults. Exhibitions which can no longer be visited have been turned into virtual exhibitions, open to all. Many churches too are providing spiritual input over the media to partly make up for enforced social distancing in pastoral and liturgical ministry. Without such media access here I cannot take advantage of this myself, but I encourage others to do so. The human mind is so creative, we should all be able to turn this sad situation into learning and growing experiences. Rather than bewailing and enduring the enforced loneliness let’s use this time to expand our minds and strengthen our spirits.