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“Grief and joy balance each other like the two wings of a bird,” says Sophy, making wings with her arms, then folding her hands together, palm to palm. She acknowledges Jeremy Thres for the analogy, which came from Martin Prechtel, who learned it from the Tsujitsil people of Guatamala. She holds each grief tending ceremony with natural, grounded lightness of touch. At each event she invites me to assist on, I feel grateful for the honour. Under her wing, I am stretching mine. Pendulating between the wings of grief and joy, the group dips into both. This is how we deepen together, risk being vulnerable, discover unexpected moments of pleasure. I tumble into the beauty of the altar I have assembled to guide my journey. It is a portal into the mystery of this process. Rumi’s words share the metaphor to express the experience perfectly: “Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as bird wings.
Sophy Banks holds on-line grief tending events, and I may be on the team.

In the crucible of these times, things are changing. I have slowed down. My frantic to-do list has become an unattainable manifesto. I settle with ‘what is’, and try to accommodate it more graciously than before. Each day on the path to and from the marshes I see a moment in the life of this rose. It caught my eye, when at first only three heads were visible. The central one, darker rust, was squeezed by the blossoming peach faces of the other two. Then, I watched as the central face unfolded to take its place; until all three unfurled into glorious papaya coloured blooms in a garden full of roses. Each day the rose requested my attention, hoped to be documented. I forgot my camera. I raced to return home for lunch, a Zoom meeting, or to go to the loo. Yet each day on its arc from bud to hip, it became more beautiful. I counted the days past its prime, and yet in decline it gathered grace. Petals dropped to the ground. In its disintegration I remembered its opening, but found in its evolving form an elegant transformation.

Part of me died when I came home to find tree surgeons chopping off the top of the old sycamore that was here before me, and has watched over us the last twenty-two years. Part of me died when I noticed how long it took for me to recognise the violence of this pollarding. Part of me died when my neighbourly yet assertive questions were aggressively dismissed by the burly lumberjacks wielding chainsaw. Part of me died when I knocked on the neighbour’s door – just along the street, and didn’t recognise their faces. Part of me died when the owner offered reasonable explanations and an after-the-fact mumbled apology. Part of me died when the shaking stopped and I breathed again; and I stood in our garden to see the remaining brutal hand of stumps. Part of me died when I imagine the territory of squirrels, birds, mice, foxes, cats and all the other creatures and insects that lived in or under the shade of this tree, cut down in its prime mid growth season. Part of me died when I realised this is a microcosm of the cutting down of trees for the benefit of faceless owners around the world, to suit their needs, while others watch disconnected or feeling helpless. Part of me died to know that I am complicit in this system. Part of me died to know the butchery of our times.
Written from a ‘writing shuttle’ inspired by Natalie Goldberg.

As an only child, I struggled to learn the rules of play. My games were often solitary imaginings of ‘house’, dolls being ‘mothered’ my way. Eventually I developed impulses to create – ‘Spirogyro’ patterns, badly spelled poems and an illustrated story about ‘My Aunt’. Dexter has always been more hands on. He introduced me to his games of make-believe, where he imagined, dressed up, and we acted out his devisings with him. “You be the shark, and now you fight me…” From an early age, he would suggest costume ideas, “fun-fur patchwork hoody?”, which I would procure. His eyes blazed then, as they do now, with fierce intensity as he conjured up worlds to escape into. He taught me to play, helped me to bring forth some of my reticence to get involved. We are still playing together. “It’s going to be a story, where I get messier and messier. I’ll wear my pink fluffy jacket. Can you find me a table cloth?” Each of us has a part to play. We all revel with delight, in the creative process, and it’s fun. I source the yoghurt.

Summer has come early. Sunshine has blazed through May. People in before times sat enclosed in air tight offices, the boxed in confines of schools, over-priced flats, houses and stuffy tube trains. Under lockdown they have been gradually coming out into green spaces. As I perform my daily pilgrimage with companions, dogs and pram, I witness the ebb and flow of training routines, an increased surge of bicycles and joggers, and now picnics. In spite of the political ‘hokey-cokey’ of lockdown regulations, rosy cheeks are blooming. Peonies display their fabulous array of petals, catching my eye. I drink it all in – the healthy motion, the lush hedgerows, the abundance of life, my delight in the colour pink.

Written by Sarah Pletts for Jillian Woods’ Diary of a House Blog in New Zealand

 

From my window, I see an occasional car. The main road beyond is busier – buses, delivery vans and a blue flashing light go past. The park opposite is green and lush. One or two pedestrians and cyclists navigate to or from the super-market, corner shop, chemist or post office. A small construction site is still growing up brick by brick, in the next street. The towers of the financial centre of the city are in the far distance.

I heard a historian speak on BBC Radio 4 when there were only a few cases of Covid-19 in the UK. He said, “In the future we will speak of ‘before’ and ‘after’ Coronavirus.” Remembering that snippet of news interview now seems like ancient history. London – recently a thriving multi-cultural city of 9 million is now quiet enough to hear the birds sing.

We have lost people, lots of them. More have died than were killed in the London Blitz. Statisticians are the new eagerly awaited storytellers. The exact figures are endlessly quoted and discussed – a messy set of deductions, additions and multiplications.

An alarming number of the dead are from black/asian/minority/ethnic backgrounds. Many key workers are in this demographic. Despite the covert racism in ‘Brexit’ divisions, some of these doctors, nurses, carers and bus drivers are now being celebrated on the more often white pages of the tabloid on-line press. Yesterday, on my Zoom call at 11am we joined a UK wide minute of silence to honour the key workers who have died so far.

Despite recent fluctuations, the roads are still more like the quiet that happens when England plays a world cup match and every ‘white van man’ was at the pub watching the game.

I went to King’s Cross in the city centre for an emergency dental appointment. Usually one of the busiest thoroughfares in London, the Euston Road was sparse with traffic. Shops in the area were shuttered as most are elsewhere. The forecourt of Kings Cross station was eerily quiet. It has been my only foray out of Hackney in weeks.

Pubs are shut, many boarded up with the prospect of staying that way for months. London’s extraordinary cultural spread of theatres, clubs, galleries, restaurants and cafés are closed. Freelance creative people and those on zero hours contracts are at home with their normally insecure incomes slashed.

Food banks exist to catch some of those who fall between the funding gaps and ‘Universal Credit’s £94 a week, (if you’re lucky enough to navigate the system). People queue at our local food bank at two metre intervals.

All of city life is now calibrated in two metre gaps. We weave along pavements – jogging, walking, cycling two metres apart. For those who are not struggling to get to essential work, in home-made mask and latex gloves on busy rush hour (reduced service) tube trains, we head to the park for daily exercise.

The last six weeks have been sunny. This is almost as unusual as the pandemic situation. Sky blue skies, un-streaked by vapour trails are recording 35% of the normal pollution levels. While those who are ill struggle for breath, the rest of us can at least breathe deeply.

Despite the high population density, London is still a very green city. Parks are bustling with people taking their hour of exercise outside. A few rebels pause to sit and enjoy the newly fresh air. Most people move with purpose. We dodge the panting breath of seemingly healthy runners. Parents use ingenuity to entertain their kids with scooters, Frisbees and balls (no team games allowed).

I can tell you what I see, but more than ever, London is full of parallel universes. I can see what is visible in my neighbourhood from the limited time I spend outside. I have an idyllic view from my privileged perch. I am one of a large household of the well. Others are not so lucky.

I know over twenty people who have had the virus, been knocked out of circulation into their beds for a week or two. Acquaintances have been hospitalised. Friends of friends have died. I am not reporting from the front line. I fear that as this time ebbs, more grief, more trauma, and more loss of hope will be visible.

I have seen our Prime Minister Boris Johnson on TV. Known for his arrogance, he ignored his own advice to avoid shaking hands and stay indoors, and caught Covid-19. Returning to our screens with dark circles around his eyes, post virus, he continues to emulate Churchill’s cadences. Many of us hope that his brush with mortality will chasten him. We hope that this time will bring opportunities to implement greener less petrochemical industry friendly policies. But, there are indications of a disturbing urge from those in power to return to ‘business as usual’.

What are the positive signs in this time of Coronavirus? I enjoy cleaner air, quieter streets, raucous bird song. I am relieved to have some time out from social busyness. Time to re-assess our food chains feels necessary. I’ve planted my first vegetables. I love quality time at home eating lovingly prepared food together with my housemates. I appreciate the gratitude that arises for the good things we still have.

We chat to friends around the world, who are now as near as those a few miles away on-line, but as unreachable in person. “What’s it like in London?” they ask. I am not necessarily a reliable witness. I can tell you what it is like in this house. I have a sense of how it is for my immediate neighbours as we chat, calling across the garden fence or from our doorsteps. I have an impression of how it seems in this neighbourhood. Although cases of domestic violence have doubled, so I know all is not well behind closed doors.

There are different attitudes to this crisis among different generations, and different social demographics. Many are under huge pressure, but with a range of causes. While isolation is often really difficult, there are also ways in which people are coming together, helping each other and showing kindness.

There seems to be a quirky British eccentricity about ways in which we are showing solidarity – Monty Python meets the Royal Family.  The 100 years old Captain Tom Moore has captured the nation’s imagination by pushing his walker up and down outside his house in aid of the NHS. Guaranteed to bring a tear to the eye, he has so far raised twenty-nine million pounds.

Children are creating pictures of rainbows to put in their windows. Then at 8pm each Thursday, we clap. Doors and window are flung open, and for a good few minutes we applaud to ‘care for the carers’. Where we live this might include banging pans, cranking a football rattle or shaking Maracas.  Curiously charming, it does raise my spirits.

Dr Bessel Van Der Kolk, expert on trauma, recently said about the Global Coronavirus Crisis: “I think we are in a pre-traumatic condition, namely the conditions for psychological trauma are rife.” Whatever may be the causes, the statistics, the political and financial manoeuvres, we are experiencing a collective challenge. This will affect each of us differently on a personal level. I am mindful that for those who were already dealing with trauma or the chronic consequences of trauma, the threat of the virus and the consequences of illness, or of the lockdown itself, will add to the emotional load on the nervous system. Just as for those who are already dealing with underlying physical health conditions, the virus will add to the viral load on the immune system. London is a city that has a huge gap between rich and poor. For many there is little or no financial cushion. Old and young, frail or healthy face different threat levels. Key worker or unemployed, with inverse stresses. I don’t know how this crisis will unfold, and how many will face tragedy of one kind or another. Sometimes trauma comes with a visible wound, but often it lurks in PTSD, and other chronic conditions. During my own stay at home, I am glued to Carolyn Spring’s on-line trauma trainings. With whatever comes next, it feels as though these will provide important understanding for me to draw upon further along the curve of Covid-19’s impact.
www.carolynspring.com
www.besselvanderkolk.com

I am curious about this time of review, re-evaluate, retreat. It seems that for those whose work is absolutely necessary, there is a new respect. For many others, normal activity has been suspended and something different is taking place. At odds with the surge of growth that is happening outside, I am held back from the usual outpourings of social energy, of being out in the world. Instead, I am tending to new seeds. For me, this darkness is the compost for creative ideas to germinate. I am feeding my soil with the conditions for learning. I am taking in good food, wise words, sunshine and water. Alongside, I watch Dexter growing into a DJ. Named for this expression of rhythm and joy, he becomes more self-assured as he plays. He takes particular pleasure in sourcing tunes that will make us wiggle. We dance as he streams music out into the ether. What are you incubating?

There is a change to our regular physics of interaction. Like pairs of magnets, people are either driven together or pushed apart. It feels as though each household is trying to find a new equilibrium through being alone and seeking ways to reach out, or being together and seeking autonomy. Sewn into my wedding shawl, my mother embroidered me these words by Khalil Gibran, “Let there be spaces in your togetherness”. They speak powerfully to my need for ‘self-regulation’ time alone. We walk as a pair on the marshes observing a strict two metres from other members of the local community. We dodge people on the pavement as though we are avoiding the cracks. At home we come together in a group then break apart, creating an ebb and flow of connection. This motion allows us to share food, build conversations, cuddle up, but then we return to our individual spaces to work, to be creative, or to contemplate. I imagine a cosmic eye observing this molecular pulsing dance.

I am not a key worker. I am not experiencing a life endangering situation. This household is currently well. I am conscious that anything may change at a moment’s notice. I am choosing not to take more risks than necessary. However, this leaves me feeling powerless and impotent. I feel as though I am not offering much to my local community. I love seeing pictures of rainbows made by children appear in windows as I walk past each morning. So, I made this banner to offer a simple expression of love, of solidarity. Some people look and smile as they pass. It felt as though this was something I could actually achieve. I hope it may serve as a reminder to value kindness, and to feel connected.