Oh I thought I was a city girl at heart. Now, I’m not so sure. London is my City, it’s rooted into my heart. The vibrancy, the cultural mix, theatre on your doorstep, the cool urban fashion, the arts, the people – in more normal times it is an intellectual and cultural nirvana. Sure, it’s a bit stand off-ish, reserved and maybe even a bit brash – but stay a while and look deeply and you will find it has a great big warm soul. It’s hard making friends in cities, but be sure if you make a Londoner your friend it will be for life. There’s a decency and honesty to this liberal City, which always makes me hopeful (even in the current situation). And I speak as a woman of proud Irish origin who has adopted this great City as my own – and if you know anything about the Irish of my generation this is a compliment indeed.
Now for the past month I’ve been hanging out in the English countryside (half necessity half choice) and I’ve found, to my utter delight and surprise, a whole new way of living and feeling.
Let me rewind a moment and set some context. I have history with self isolating so I’ve learnt a thing or two about living like this. Maybe like you dear reader, I’ve also seen life turn very dark and very frightening in the blink of an eye. I learnt long ago that one can rage and rage and the universe does not always speak back. Events unfold and us humans are so often left vulnerable and defenceless. There is no fairness, no justice – it just is what it is.
When my little girl was ill, I dared the Gods in heaven to take me on – a Mother half mad with grief for what she thought should have been. I almost heard them laugh and whisper “Who are you to think you are so special. Who are you to think you have any control.”
I didn’t and I was swept along in the debris that was left after they’d finished with me and my family. But I did learn something very precious, that is serving me well in these difficult days. In Maya Angelou’s words “if you don’t like something change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
I spent three years in and out of self-isolation with my daughter. It was hell, heart-breaking and completely magical. It was all of those things – sometimes at the same time. But the real beauty of the moment only emerged when I gave up trying to change things and instead looked for the hope and joy in every moment.
And we found it – we found so much of it. First I had to drop any silly illusions of grandeur – nobody cared what I did for a living or how successful I thought I’d been – it was of no interest and of no help. Then I had to give up on time and any expectation that anything would happen. I lived for many weeks, months and even years in my house and quite often in her bedroom. The World kept on turning and I often didn’t know if it was day or night.
Here’s the strangest thing – looking back I had some of the happiest times of my life – they were certainly amongst the most deeply spiritual times where I saw up close and very personal what really mattered. Family, friends came by and stayed. Instead of clock watching, we stopped and nestled into each other. We talked, we read poetry, watched TV, played games, looked at the stars, baked and sometimes just did nothing.
And here we are again, but this time it’s all of us in it together – no place to run. To me this seems very familiar territory – again fate seems to be raging at us and reminding, should we need it, that this kind of pandemic has no respect for money, status or creed. Gosh it really is the ultimate leveller.
In the countryside I have been so enthralled to hear, and I mean really hear, the birdsong. Is there anything more beautiful? My daily rush hour tube crush (God knows how any of us will ever think that this is ok after all of this) is replaced by a morning yoga session with a growing community of people looking to start the day in a different way. I take time to call friends and family and really listen to what they are saying and likewise I feel really heard for the first time in a few years.
My partner and I have slotted into a gentle cadence of a new timetable. I used to hate him travelling away so much with work, now he’s with me and we talk like we’ve never done before. I feel a whole different connection and it reminds me that the most important gift we can give to another human being is our time.
I’ve always suspected that I am at heart an introvert, albeit in extravert clothing… my job, the City demanded a more assertive personality. With the slowness, with the silence I have found my inner introvert taking over and really embracing “her” moment in the Sun. I’ve found this Summer House in the garden – I’ve named it “my girl shed” – and I’ve been virtually living down there. Tucked in the corner of the garden it has opened up a whole new inner World for me .. and I’m peeking through into all of the rooms of my own mind. I’m not sure that there is anything more fascinating than how our minds work and if we just give them the space to open up you could find some real hidden gems there.
Ok I’m only four weeks in. I have four pairs of trousers and six tops. I can’t do my hair and I can’t wear my huge selection of high heels. And so far none of this matters. I’m more careful what I cook, what I throw away, I tut at the unnecessary packaging that everything seems to come in and I’ve been in a car twice. So far I’ve uncovered a happiness and peace of mind that I touched before when my daughter was ill – but for some God forsaken reason I chose to forget about the learnings when I returned to normal life.
Not this time. I vow. If I was a religious woman, which I’m not, I would feel that God was reigning down his/her fury on us for our selfish, uncaring way of life. But I am a deeply spiritual person and I do believe we are having a giant mirror placed in front of us and I certainly don’t like what I see.
I have been meditating on what I want my life to look like from here on in. As a student of Buddhism I already meditate on death each day – I find this a completely joyful thing to do as it helps one not sweat the small stuff. I want to live each day as it truly is my last and then I know I have lived every second of this precious life. And what better way to honour our own dead than to embrace each second.
So I’m off back to my girl hut for the evening to work on a whole new creative project – something incredibly close to my heart . Watch this space so much more to come……
Oh and a huge thank you to the kind people who ask me to write. Writing helps me make sense of the World, but if I think even one of you is listening that makes it even more worthwhile.
Stay safe, hold each other very tight and stay home.