CAUTION - VERY LONG POST!
At various points since Lockdown (I assume it has a capital 'L') began, I have sat down to write something on this blog, and then deleted it because either the tone or the time, or maybe both, wasn't right. But perhaps now, as Scotland enters 'Phase 3' of its route map out of Lockdown, and on a day when I have just enjoyed a relaxed hour with tea, cake and kitties, is a good time.
The bare facts - the last time I shared a meal table with anyone else was Friday 13th March, when I had church folk round for dinner. That 'last supper' has perhaps taken on significance beyond what it justified, but it has become, for me, an important, and happy, memory that maybe has an element of '...until we do this anew in the Beyond.'
During the early days of Lockdown I became far more intentional about mealtimes: I created a 'den' in my kitchen where I could sit and relax; at least once a week I would set the table with a cloth and have a 'proper sit down meal' - I have cooked more roast dinners in the last four months than in a very long time! This has, for the most part been a really positive thing.
For the most part. Because as the early relaxations of Lockdown meant other people began to share tables, I didn't, couldn't even, because anyone I might have chosen to 'bubble' with lived in England, and any non-church friends in Scotland lived more than ten miles way, so even a picnic half way wasn't an option. There was a period of self-pity - which I fought really hard, if unsuccessfully - during which I would outwardly do the 'rejoice with those who rejoice' thing whilst inwardly feeling left out. This is not anyone's fault, and I am not writing this to guilt-trip anyone... indeed these two possible readings of my sharing have put me off so-doing. It's just how it was.
Many, many moons ago, a wise Baptist minister who I respect deeply, said that ministers are 'intentional outsiders' in church communities. That we are in them but never entirely of them. I think I have felt the weight of that intentionality in recent weeks. There was no way I could invite household A to a distanced meet because why not Household B or C... When an invitation did come from a couple who also have no relatives in Scotland for a distanced meet, I wrestled long and hard with whether or not this was an 'OK' thing to do. Perhaps I was overthinking, perhaps I wasn't. In the end we had a pleasant enough hour, even if I seemed constantly to be moving away to maintain the 2m spacing (I am such a rule follower!).
Things kind of reached a crisis point during one of our Zoom Communion services, which coincided with it being 100 days since I had sat down with another human being. I regretted that I had allowed myself to be sucked into day counting, but it was too late, the damage was done! Professional head on, I got through it, but I was miserable inside. As someone I spoke to afterwards said, which was true, there could easily have been - and probably were - others feeling equally isolated.
Perhaps sometimes we need that kind of moment as a turning point? I don't know. I do know that now when it is (hang on let me count...) 128 days, that the feeling I had back then has evaporated, and even feels faintly ridiculous in hindsight.
During Phase 2, just as face coverings were about to become mandatory, I ordered a cloth mask from one of the women in my 'GABBies' network. She asked to meet up 'for a socially distant cup of tea' - and I was surprised at the level of anxiety this stirred. This was not hugely risky, we are both sensible, rational people and the place we agreed to meet operated good hygiene. But it was an avoidable risk, she could after all just hand over the mask and be gone! Of course, I agreed, and we met, leaned back in our chairs on the pavement, so that we were never within 'spitting distance' (a phrase that has gained new significance, I feel) and had a chat over tea drunk from paper cups.
I began to question whether I wanted to meet up with other people for an outdoor cuppa (risk low) let alone the horrifying thought of a meal indoors (risk not so low - I have walked past several places where social distancing isn't possible, and today one with a sign that even said 'you are now entering a 1m distance area').
Way back when, Risk Assessment always involved cost-benefit analysis... essentially, trying to answer the question 'does the benefit outweigh the cost'. This is never entirely straight forward, because it is usually multi-faceted. So it is with the easing of Lockdown.
The risk due to Covid-19 of going to a cafe, pub or restaurant is somewhat higher than staying at home - though how quantifiable I wouldn't begin to guess. The risk to mental health and well-being of staying at home, devoid of real-world human interaction is also real, but again I have no idea how to quantify it. Each person, each household, has to do their own internal/intuitive cost-benefit analysis, decide which risk is more significant for them, which benefit they need or desire. There is no one right answer, and I have joined the ranks of the #bekind hashtag users, trying to express that.
I have come to realise that I really don't miss eating out or going to coffee shops, that actually although I am 'among people' I am still, usually on my own, an observer not a participant. And much as I enjoy people-watching, I don't need to pay for the privilege!
I have also come to realise that I could easily become a hermit or a recluse, at least in so far as actual, physical human contact is concerned. I'm not a 'huggy' person, and the fact that, apart from two occasions when a medical professional stuck a needle in my arm (both routine, don't panic!), I haven't touched or been touched by anyone for several months, doesn't bother me.
That doesn't mean that people don't matter to me. Quite the opposite, and I really hope that what I have learned over these months will enable me to be a kinder and more empathic human being.
I have been granted a glimpse into the world of the frail elderly person who spends all day at home alone, perhaps being visited by a carer to heat their meal, but with no significant conversations.
I have been granted a glimspe into the experience of those whose family and friends live so far away that visiting is impractical or even prohibited, and just how acute that separation can feel.
I have discovered great joy in Virtual Church and other Zoom meetings and gatherings. I have discovered important questions to ponder about the shape, look or feel of church in the 'Beyond'.
And I have discovered the joy that can be mine when I take the time to be make more of 'me time.'
The photo at the top of this post is the table I set for myself this afternoon. The table cloth belonged to my Grandma, a gift from my aunt who lived in Australia. The cutlery was a gift from my parents when I set up home. The tea-plates my brothers clubbed together to buy me when they were teenagers and I was leaving home. The mug was a gift from friends in Dibley when I moved to Glasgow. The slate teapot stand came from the Lake District, the coasters from Wales and the tea-bag holder (under the tea-strainer) I painted in a ceramics place near Ross-on-Wye. The serviette was from a pack gifted to me by one of our Iranians.
It is here, in the choosing, arranging, and enjoying that I reconnect with these folk (and others on other occasions). That my table is set for one, is neither curse nor blessing, it just 'is.' That I have learned to make time to slow down, to reflect, to remember, to smile, to rest and to be refreshed - all this is pure gift, and it is something that Lockdown has given me.
As the saying goes: nothing is wasted, and all, in the end is harvest.
Or as another saying goes: all will be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
Or, as another wise man once said, 'every time you eat and drink, you remember me...' So be it. May I 'live the memory' not just now, but continually.