How comforting it is at this time of ‘lockdown’ that Spring, unaffected by the coronavirus, has been following its usual pattern: in April, the dawn chorus, beginning with the blackbird’s cheerful song, all the busy nest-building in our gardens, daffodils and cherry blossom, and now, in May, bluebells and bright yellow gorse.
‘When gorse is in bloom, kissing’s in season!’ goes the old saying. But alas, that is not the case this year…
Now that we have to keep at a distance from one another, we have come to realise how precious is the sense of touch. We can still hear family and friends on our telephones and even see them on our computer screens if we have access to Skype, Zoom, etc. But when on the telephone or online we can’t smell their favourite perfume or after-shave lotion, and, above all, how sad and frustrating it is not to be able to touch a loved one, shake a friend’s hand, give them a hug, or place a sympathetic arm around their shoulder, for fear of catching or spreading the virus. Now, when sending a text, email or card, I end my message with ‘VH’ (Virtual Hug!) – but that is a poor substitute for the real thing!
And how agonising it has been for the hundreds of grieving relatives banned from visiting a loved one terminally ill in hospital. I think of the last line of Wilfred Owen’s poem Greater Love, written in the trenches during the First World War: Weep, you may weep, for you may touch them not.
Over the past few weeks, we have become aware of many things which we may have taken for granted up until now: the beauty of nature, the sound of birdsong, our dependence on one another, the kindness of strangers, the bravery and self-sacrifice of our health workers. But perhaps the most striking realisation has been that, in terms of the danger of a pandemic, we humans are all equally at risk. Differences of nationality, culture, religion, sexuality, language, personality, all fade into the background when we are faced with the matter of life versus death. We who were so proud of our scientific and technological “progress” over the past century have suddenly experienced an unprecedented frightening feeling of helplessness.
Somebody once said “There are no atheists in a sinking ship”, meaning that at times of collective fear we instinctively turn to prayer, reaching out for help from a power greater than our own, whether or not we call it ‘God’.
Last week my friend Muriel told me that someone had sent her a cartoon in which the Devil said to God “I have closed hundreds of your churches!” to which God replied “But I have opened thousands of new ones in people’s homes!”
This topic has turned up in several telephone conversations with my friends. Norma recommended a short service offered on YouTube by a local minister. “It’s great. I’ve watched it three times and it’s made me feel so much better!” she exclaimed enthusiastically. Mhari told me that she had enjoyed another local (lady) minister’s helpful recorded talk which was available by dialling her phone number. Elizabeth recommended the weekly Sunday worship programme on BBC Scotland’s Reflections at the Quay. Last week this featured not only favourite hymns but also a representative of the Muslim faith who explained the purpose of Ramadan, the month of fasting, which was about to start. He ended by sharing with us a beautiful prayer to God (Allah).
I thought of that devout Muslim man two days later when, throughout the United Kingdom, there was a one minute’s silence in honour of all the health workers who have died as a result of the coronavirus. Many of them were Asian and possibly Muslim, working alongside colleagues of other faiths (or none). All of them had caught the virus as, regardless of their own safety, they tried to save their patients.
Every Thursday at 8pm I stand at my front door and join my neighbours in loud applause for our ‘NHS heroes’. Many windows throughout Britain now display a rainbow, often with ‘Thank you, NHS’ written below. My front window has this painting by 10-year-old Ella from next door.
The complete circle in rainbow colours with a plane in the middle shows a ‘pilot’s glory’, visible when the sun casts the plane’s shadow down on to rainclouds below. I like to think of this picture as symbolic: its passengers and crew are from many different backgrounds but they are all equally surrounded by God’s love – whether or not they are aware of it!
Tomorrow (8 May) there will be another national ‘get-together’, albeit only on radio and TV because of lockdown. It will mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day when the war (in Europe) finally came to an end. As we commemorate that joyful day, we will pay tribute to the heroes of that earlier generation who lost their lives as they fought to defend our country. The VE75 evening programme on BBC is to end with a rendition of the favourite wartime song: Vera Lynn’s We’ll meet again.
“There is no greater love than this, that a man should lay down his life for his friends”, said Jesus on the night he gave himself up to be crucified. But then, by his resurrection, he showed that death is not the end…
May all those who have recently lost love ones find consolation.
We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day!