March 12th – ‘I need to speak to you about coronavirus’ said the reassuring voice of An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. So it began, the list of dates – March 29th, April 12th , May 5th, May 18th, June 8th, June 29th.
For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
Like Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock, we have been measuring out the time in spoons, because it has all been so very big and so unknown and so unpredictable.
When the chips are down, I turn to poetry. I’ve always done so, helped along I’m sure by the joys within Soundings and the stern insistence of Sr Claude that the English language held such wealth that us good convent girls could use it to express anything!
Among the hundreds of poems that I love, is ‘The Invitation’ by Oriah Mountain Dreamer. It’s the type of poem that sits on walls beside ‘Desiderata’ and I love it all the more for that. I found it on a poster in Vancouver twenty years ago and this verse caught me –
‘It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.’
It struck me then, simply because of where I was in that moment – far from home with a person I had just met. In the moment that I read it, I knew he would be the one who would do exactly that. I’ve been thinking about that poem a lot lately and thinking that it doesn’t apply just to romantic love, and to actually getting up with the children. It’s the person who will do the messy stuff in any relationship. No matter how messy they are themselves. No matter how tired, how spent, how sad.
This pandemic has shown us a lot of big stuff. Politicians, doctors, nurses, midwives, medical chiefs, people making big important decisions that impacted peoples lives. I am grateful to them beyond measure but I am also grateful to the ones that do the ‘smaller’ things. Which we all know are not small at all. They are massive.
The ones who ‘get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done’ for us, for society, for the greater good. The nursing home staff, the cleaning staff, the care assistants, the builders who worked around the clock to open test centres, the shop staff, delivery people, post office staff, doctors receptionists, refuse collectors. The list is endless and they served us all and still do.
Not just those people though – I think of the others who did what needed to be done after the night of worry – but did so invisibly.
The mother who moved her ex husband back in so that he would be safer and so that her children would be happier.
The daughter who handed her flowers to a crying grandmother in the supermarket, knowing her own elderly mother was crying alone.
The resource teacher who called a parent at night to talk about what they could do to avoid losing all the progress so recently made.
The young man queueing at the pharmacy for his mother’s medication.
The husband baking with the children to give his wife some time.
The teacher trying to keep it together for the online assembly while her own disabled child suffered for the closure of his school.
The wife taking a public facing job when her husbands work was decimated by school closures.
The friend who made a game of watching Monsters Inc so the children won’t be scared of being tested.
The elderly woman, still popping in next door daily, to check her even more elderly sister.
Those are my people, they were exhausted, and weary, and scared. They still are as we tip-toe into the new normal. Yet up they get, every day, every hour, working always, whether for money or not, working to protect their children, their parents, their neighbours, people they have no family link to, their fellow citizens.
They are the best of us. Those are the people who I will tell my children about too, when all of this becomes a history that they only vaguely recall.