Opening Up

“It is exhausting, all this opening up.”  Nitya Prakash

The other day I caught myself yearning for the early days of lockdown last year. I wondered what this was about. Surely it is much better that we are getting to see our friends, families and even hug some people.

My mind went to the story of the people of Israel, who once they had been freed from bondage as slaves in Egypt, ended up in the wilderness having to fend for themselves. The first image is The Gathering of the Manna by James Tissot. They complained to their leader, Moses, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”. To be honest, I can see their point of view – bits of biscuit like fungi or meat and two veg. I know what I’d go for! But they had also forgotten that the good food came with a harsh slavery price tag. I am reminded of the quote by Ursula le Guin I have previously used about the ‘weight of liberty’, and maybe this is partly what the Israelites were feeling, that responsibility that comes with agency.

When lockdown first happened last year, I was deeply concerned about the loss of our civil liberties, an issue that still hasn’t disappeared with the forthcoming police bill. And yet, however much I bucked against the sometimes-draconian laws, I sort of enjoyed being told what to do, being limited and not having to think for myself. It was so much easier and, as lockdown progressed, I also got used to my own limited company.

I think I am not alone in this strange place of mixed feelings I find myself in. A friend on Facebook also shared this sense of malaise: she talked about feeling both “anxious and hypervigilant” and a fear of “intruding and being intruded upon” and yet “anxious at not being close to people”. Sound familiar? We have all missed each other, but we have got used to policing our every move. A recent attempt to book a train for my long overdue visit to see my sister in Scotland felt ridiculously stressful, a decision about a work trip to London involved explaining certain nervous caveats about tube travel with a colleague. Visiting a friend drained me and then I had to withdraw again. I have got used to my small world and sometimes it feels easier to stay in it. In a recent zoom prayer meeting people expressed this wariness as the sudden influx of face-to-face activities and opportunities appear in our lives and there is a sense that we have forgotten how to be with others. One person said that somehow a face-to-face meeting with a friend felt more exhausting than a 100 person zoom.

I hope we learn and do not forget those positives we have gained through the restrictions of the pandemic, but I also hope that we recognise those things have gone missing or faded into the background: the need we all have for human contact and company for personal and societal wellbeing, our communities, respect for others, a concern for justice, the freedom which allows us to act for the good of all. The second image is a quick drawing I have made as part of a new seedling idea called Scrollover. This shows a picture of refugees receiving aid, rather like the manna in the wilderness – one of many images that appear in my Instagram feed regularly and which I all too easily scroll over because I want my art fix and am uncomfortable being confronted with the reality of the wider world. I am tired with everything, and so am finding it difficult to extend my compassion outwards.

And yet, if we have learnt anything, surely it is the value of human contact, the need we have for each other. There is a call to care about and for each other. And this requires effort, not only personally but also communally, and dare I say it, globally.

Reflection

Take time to look at the pictures and consider these questions:

  • What are you struggling with as we ease out of lockdown?
  • What have you missed? What is hard to regain?
  • What have you learnt? What can you take into the future?
  • What responsibilities come with agency?

Meditative action

You will need social media.

  • Find a friend who you have only communicated to via social media (or email would also work) over the last year or so. Send them a message, maybe arrange to meet up if this is possible.
  • Scroll down your feed and find a targeted advertisement for relief aid or a charity. This can be local or global. Take time to look at the image: how do you feel?

Draw or write your response to both experiences

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