Can we learn anything from this strange and worrying time we are living in? Specifically, does this period of lockdown have any lessons for us to learn? If God is in all things, then there must be some good in the midst of this all. Here are ten lessons I hope to take away from lockdown.
Lockdown lesson 1: Be thankful for the food you have and waste none of it
Food has been so readily available in modern times in the West that we, for the most part, haven’t had to think too much about where the next meal will come from. Many people at home and around the world, though, don’t have the luxury of being able to put food on the table regularly. Huge queues at supermarkets, shorter supply of some products and uncertain financial times to come has made us think a little more. During this time I have been awakened to the fact that I waste too much food. One concrete thing I’ve done about this is to use the bones of the Sunday dinner roast chicken to make a soup on Monday. Boiling the bones with onion, garlic, chilli and herbs, straining the liquid and adding some of the chicken meat left over from Sunday makes a lovely chicken broth and feeds Nuala and I for Monday lunch. Another thing I am doing is to work really hard at keeping a check on best before dates so that everything we buy is used.
Lockdown lesson 2: Being physically together cannot be bettered but let’s keep social media gatherings going too
Something that has made me smile to myself during lockdown is seeing a particular myth being busted; namely that social media is a force only for bad. Yes, that myth is well and truly busted. I’ve watched how my children use their well honed skills to remain connected to friends and family. There have been bouts of laughter from my daughter in her room as she jokes with her close buddies. It does my heart good to hear her and it wouldn’t be happening without social media. Lockdown has also seen the liturgical life of the Church go online and more specifically has seen social media being a platform for many parishes and Church communities to offer Mass, scripture and other types of virtual gatherings. Given the nature of social media, these gatherings involve the ability for congregations to interact and be real as well as virtual communities. I’ve fallen into a wonderful way to end my day by ‘going’ to night prayer with Fr Martin Magill, live from the oratory in his house in my neighbouring parish of St John’s. Being able to do this from my own sitting room has encouraged me to maintain this discipline in a way that I would not if I had to travel to his house or to a church at that time of night. When lockdown ends I hope to be able to gather once again with people in my local church. Indeed for church communities to gather together physically again will and must be the primary way of gathering. That said, I hope to be able to continue to gather for things like night prayer virtually as well as physically.
Lockdown lesson 3: Financial exclusion must end
Is cash dead? Even before lockdown I found that I rarely had cash in my pockets (even on the days that I had some in my account!). Since lockdown I see more and more shops accepting only cashless payments; indeed often it is only contactless payments. That’s a good thing. It limits the spread of this virus and other viruses. It means that there is less cash about and that might stop robberies. Yet, this makes life difficult in lots of ways for lots of people. In fact it financially excludes a whole section of our community who do not have access to contactless methods of payment. This reminds me that our society is not an equal one and we must all do what we can to change that.
Lockdown lesson 4: Find reliable sources of news that is not fear driven
As lockdown began to bite and I found myself furloughed and mostly housebound save for a daily dog walk and some shopping occasionally, I noticed that my attention was given to the multiple news channels on my TV. Something else I noticed was that my sense of anxiety and foreboding grew in parallel and in relation to the amount of news I watched. Watching the same news over and over and sometimes getting sucked into the agendas of politicians and corporations was not a good thing. I switched off, stayed safe and felt better. The aforementioned notwithstanding, and in fact as a direct result of what I have just written, I have had to become more discerning in where I get my news from. I watch less news from more sources I trust. This keeps me up to date, free from others’ agendas and less anxious.
Lockdown lesson 5: Have more family time or time with your household members
Having a wife and children is a blessing that I am grateful for every day of my life. Being confined to the house for much of the day with these four other wonderful human beings allows me to reflect that before lockdown I didn’t make enough effort to spend time with them as I might have. We’ve recently got the board games out again, even if only to give us something to do. We’ve had so much fun! And it wasn’t really the games themselves. It was spending time with each other talking and laughing. The same can be said of the regular video conference calls we have with extended family members. We’ve had quizzes and birthday celebrations this way. Again it’s not the quizzes or the birthday songs themselves but the contact that counted.
Lockdown lesson 6: Redefine the word hero and value our heroes in how we treat them with gratitude, respect and remuneration
One of the most striking things I’ve noticed during lockdown is how I view the people around me who work in what heretofore would have been described as every day jobs; those jobs that keep society ticking over. Lots of those jobs were and are poorly paid and the people who do them were under valued. As well as NHS workers who rightly are seen as heroes, we think of shop keepers, refuse collectors, community volunteers, carers and so many more. Their dedication and bravery humble us all. We owe them a debt of gratitude.
Lockdown lesson 7: Good memories minister to us; let’s make more
Each morning as I come to consciousness and fall out of sleep I have begun to do a simple mind exercise to help start my day well. I take a walk! I search my memory banks for some place I’ve been at some place in my life of which I have good memories and I walk about that place. Some walks I have taken have transported me to Dublin or Portugal, to Divis Mountain here in Belfast or even to the Caribbean. I began to do this because I found that most mornings my first thoughts were about Covid-19 or lockdown. Those thoughts did not start my day well and I stepped into the day with a heaviness that I did not need. By having a mental walk through a happy memory starts my day with a lightness that leaves me better able to live well.
Lockdown lesson 8: Keep perspective on what matters and avoid unhealthy stress through prayer and meditation
You know the old joke saying, ‘don’t sweat the pretty things and don’t pet the sweaty things’? Well, I’m not sure about the second half as I own four very active dogs who love a pet, but I agree with the first part. And my, oh my, has lockdown given me a whole new way to calibrate stressful experiences. I’ve found that things I once looked on as being very stressful pale into insignificance when compared to the core things in life like the wellbeing of family and friends, my own health and my own spiritual wellbeing. I’m not saying that nothing else mattes and I know that some level of stress is inevitable in life (and at low levels can actually be helpful in small doses to focus us on a task at hand) but I am saying that stress can compromise your immune system and a re-evaluation of what is worthy of getting stressed about is in order. I have found prayer and meditation very helpful in this regard.
Lockdown lesson 9: Never underestimate the impact of loneliness
Lockdown and the ensuing rules about social distancing means that there is less social contact for everyone. As a classic extrovert, I get my energy from being round people. I find the lack of contact difficult to adjust to. I don’t think I am alone in that. As time has gone on I notice that a simple hello and a smile to the person I pass two metres away means more than it used to. I feel my face light up when someone greets me and I see others’ faces light up as I say hello. We’re built for social contact and lockdown is bringing loneliness for a lot of people. That a simple act of saying hello has come to mean so much is testament to that fact. And loneliness can be a killer. It brings stress and depression and much more with it. When we can we must reach out to each other and shatter the loneliness that might otherwise snare us. When this is over, we must do even more to combat loneliness.
Lockdown lesson 10: A new, fairer normal must emerge
There is a tension that occurs for me when I hear people say how they are looking forward to ‘getting back to normal’. I understand that the times we are living in don’t feel, and in many ways are not, normal for us all. We rightly long for an end to the pandemic and the resultant suffering it has caused. But do we want to go back to normal? Normal was good in ways, of course. We could visit family and friends, our local businesses could function well, we could comfort the dying and bury the dead. These things must and will return. But normal had also become a world where we polluted the environment (which is making a come back in so many places all over the world now that pollution has decreased). Normal was a world where global commercialisation ran rampant, trading on slave labour and devastating families, communities and places. Normal was wars being fought for God knows what. Normal was people sleeping homeless on our streets while rich people bought their tenth million pound home. Normal was hospitals all over the world being under funded and under equipped while individuals were able to buy ventilators for themselves and their families ‘just in case’. Every day I pray for an end to this pandemic. And every day I pray that we don’t go back to normal.