It’s incredibly hard to know how to process what’s happening right now – I mean, what can you say when you’re in the middle of something so big and so unwanted? I’ve learned that, for me anyway, I tend to feel like I understand things better when I’m through them, when I can stand and squint at them in the distance. Then they start to take shape, whereas before they were nebulous and unformed.
But looking back on things and not attempting to process them even a little at the time also runs the risk of that memory-shape being moulded into something slightly different, by dint of your removal from the moment. I fear that if I don’t capture what it is to be living right now, in the midst of a global pandemic (even writing those words feels odd and clumsy), then afterwards I’ll have forgotten the truth of it. I’ll look to newspaper headlines or tweets to guide me, and I don’t want either of those to guide me. They are part of the experience, but not the whole.
Recently I had been wanting to write about what is happening, just for myself, but hadn’t been able to. In fact, I’d been kind of resistant to people who were trying to capture the experience as it is now. Anything I saw seemed too intense for me to digest.
Then I saw Luke Byrne had put a call out on Instagram for people to send him clips and WhatsApp messages about what was going on in their own life, and how they were experiencing the coronavirus situation, so he could put short documentaries together. I watched the first one with a bit of trepidation, fearing the tone might be the ‘Twitter tone’ that makes my shoulders tense up. But I was wrong.
The tone of the videos was gentle, soft, open, honest. Like a chat with a friend. The little details of people’s lives were so lovely to see, and the participants didn’t need to spell out how difficult things were for them. I loved seeing the short visuals people captured, the dappled light or the cats padding around, because thinking about their day had made them slow down and look more intensely at what’s around them.
In the clips, people were being honest about the difficult and good things that this time was bringing them. That’s the strange, and uncomfortable, thing about all this. It’s horrible, and it’s incomprehensible, and we want it over with. But it’s meant for some people – not all – a chance to reassess some things in their life. Or at least, a chance to see things in their life a bit more clearly. Sometimes that means summoning up an emotion that sinks like a stone in your stomach, and other times that means seeing the niceness in things. The softness. The moments you’d ordinarily miss with your rushing around.
Yet this is all happening while people get ill, and die, and lose jobs, and get pay cuts, and can’t see families, or hold hands of loved ones. How do you square all of this happening together? Does one cancel out the other? I don’t think it does. I think they are all part of the same thing. That overall what is happening is horrible, and so people are finding their own small ways through it. They are capturing the brighter moments to help them through the larger, darker ones.
For me, living in Dublin has meant years of constantly rushing – and I don’t have kids, or live far from work, so I have a pretty easy life compared to others. But still, life isn’t a competition about who has it worse, and even with all this privilege I spent a good chunk of the start of 2020 questioning how I could have more time. Then I got that time and I felt like the meme: ‘Thanks, I hate it’.
When Luke asked me to write a few words for the second Lost Together, at first I wondered if I’d be able to write anything, but I said yes. Because I love the way these videos capture what’s happening now for some people, and how they will fit within the greater picture of these months. The long-term view of this is stark in many ways. I’ve already had bad news and I worry about what is yet to come, so the idea of carving out a sliver of something beautiful from ‘all this’ sustains me. I want to see the lightness in things. I want to keep a bit of hope. I don’t think it’s being naive, I think it’s necessary.
Here’s what I wrote for the video, below (it’s also in the Insta caption). If you like what Luke is doing, follow him on Instagram, and you can also contribute towards the costs of his labour here if you can afford it, by buying the equivalent of a cup of coffee.
And to whoever is reading this – I know things are shite, and I hope you’re doing OK.
Small moments take on new, bigger meanings when your perspective is shifted. Even when you didn’t want that shift, when you couldn’t have imagined what it could mean or why it could happen.
Lately, things have shifted for us all, and we don’t know when they’ll shift back. Maybe they never will. Maybe our world will forever stay nudged a few degrees off its axis, always slightly askew. Yet so far, in that askewness people have been finding something new – a little crack that allows us to view a different angle to something familiar. It could be noticing the pearly drip of hot coffee from paper filter into cup; the swish of your moving body; or the inscrutable narrowing of your cat’s eyes.
That crack seems to have opened up time: time to garden, time to write, to create, to breathe. But every activity is done against a background of anxiety; a dull sense of something being off. Something that isn’t yet resolved. Something, someone, missing. The knowledge that the future is full of uncertainty of the worst kind. And yet… there can be ways, between the worries, to carve out a space to nestle into the newness. To appreciate the loving act of a housemate leaving a bowl of soup out for you when you’re ill, or to take time to witness the gentle bob of a pink cherry blossom against the blue of a fresh spring sky.
It feels like an act of selfishness, in a way, to welcome in any good at a time that is so filled with darkness. But maybe it’s not – maybe it’s acceptance. Maybe it’s saying that amidst the sadness, the loss, we’re learning to appreciate more.
That we can be lost together, lonely and connected, sad but open-hearted.
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