Day 82

June 8, 2020

So, I started this blog to deal with living through a pandemic, to help me make sense of how I felt and hopefully, what was going on around me.  I am not sure it has achieved either of these things, but, as we are moving through a government process of easing the lockdown, this blog's raison d'etre has come to an end.  However I feel I have more questions than answers.  Some of these questions are around the things we need to do now to reintegrate into society safely - wear a mask, don't wear a mask, send your children to school, don't send your children to school...  Some of them are around the speed and carelessness at which the lockdown easing seems to be handled, and at it being eased at all with over 40,000 deaths and this toll rising, and still no vaccine.

 

Still some of these questions are over what happened to the hopes I had that this lockdown may give us time to reflect on who we wanted to be and how we wanted to be - that our sense of connection to one another, the planet and animals around us, would increase.  I hoped we may question things more.  I had hoped that this would be done non-violently, peacefully and inclusively.  I had hoped we would learn from each other, I had hoped we would listen better.  Instead I see beaches and beauty spots packed with people too concerned about their own welfare, about how tough it's been for them, disregarding social distancing and then disrespecting the environment with the litter they leave.  I see one news report where locals are left to clear up human waste on a beach as the toilets were not open and people literally left their mark, allegorically summing up what they were doing all over the natural world....

 

'Why is it called guerrilla warfare?' our son suddenly asks me. He is making a Lego set, we have decided it will cover any art or design and technology lessons...

 

'Is it because of 'Planet of the Apes?' he goes on to ask.  It takes me a bit to make the required connections, or to make the required connections that I know our son will have made.

 

'Well I am not an expert on the tactics the apes used in the film but I think you should check your spellings first...' I advise, tactfully for me I feel.

 

This and other questions have taxed us during his school lessons at home during lockdown.  But now he is asking us to explain what he sees unfolding on the news - rioting.  He knows a man was killed in America, a black man being arrested by the police, he knows George Floyd need not have died. I have always told him that freedom of speech and peaceful protest are to be respected, that everyone must have a voice but that we all must also listen. I have always told him that just because one person does something that is unjustified, hurtful or judgemental it does not mean they are representative of a belief, cause, political party, gender, race, country, creed or colour.  I have always told him that two wrongs do not make a right - if you have been hurt by someone and then lash out at someone else you are not right, you may be hurting and need help, but you are not going the right way about asking for either of these things or making the situation better or bringing the culprit to account. I have always told him that we look at what a person does or says to see if they are empathic, supportive and non-judgemental, not at what they wear, what car they drive, where they live, how they speak or what race they are. 

 

He asks me about the statues being defaced or torn down - I have always told him that history is important, that it is the way we learn about our past and understand how we got to our present, that we must not judge it by today's eyes, must not impose our own values on another time.  Instead that we must use our understanding of another time, of the beliefs that boundary it and values that underpin it, to see how others acted as they did, made the decisions they did, so we can forge a path forwards based on always questioning our development, our values, our beliefs.  History can show us our flaws, our mistakes, our errors, our strengths, our weaknesses, our heroes, our villains, our best of times and our worst of times. I am wary of it ever being re-written or erased - when added to, critiqued and commented upon, history enriches our learning, our ability to understand and do better, when we take evidence of our development away, we are limiting our ability to grow and be self-aware.  

 

I hear people say they are ashamed of Britain's history, of their ancestor's part in it.  I hear them tell other people they should also feel this way.  I hear people say this is all because they are trying to tackle the issue of 'white privilege' by acknowledging the position of strength being white gives them.  I suddenly feel wary of lots of assumptions being made about what being white means to people, about what being British means to people and about missing the connection to class and the part it played in being British throughout history.  I am wary of 'white privilege' and power being levelled as a condemnation against a swathe of British people who will feel they have suffered at the hands of both, that being white hasn't brought them the help others feel it should have, could have, must have....  I wonder at Anglo-Celtic relations, at those who feel the British title includes them, those with Irish, Welsh, Scottish backgrounds and family histories of suffering and wrongs done by those in British politics and excused by beliefs of a language and culture that marked them out as inferior.  I wonder at the impact on the identity of a British working-class that have been starved and brutalised by a system of values where position in society excused the harshest of treatments to those born at the lower end of a misbegotten scale.

 

I am wary of history being used in a divisive way, of a scale of wrongs, of people feeling alienated, side-lined, told how to feel.  This is an inclusive story of suffering, judgements and barbarity.  Everyone had a part to play in it, of course they did, it is our history - racism, bigotry, slavery, homophobia, anti-Semitism, but do not take people's stories away from them, do not claim to speak for them or over them.  There is a danger inherent in feeling misunderstood, it stops everyone listening and learning - together.  We must all feel like we are in this together - feeling we can be open to the lessons our ancestors stories have for each of us.  So please don't assume anyone's story, don't assume you can speak for them - it's never an inclusive (history) lesson when this is the case.

 

I had also hoped we would mourn together as a nation, as a world, helping each other to grieve and go forward battling anything that threatened to take our hard won self-awareness away.  I hoped we had learnt that ALL lives matter and that only by learning each other's stories would we understand how we impacted on each other, how connected we all were, how responsible for each other and our actions we all are. Grief is a great leveller, it unites people in a painful experience and seeks expression and acceptance.  During the pandemic, our experience of bereavement may have occurred without the ability to be by our loved ones side, or hold the rituals to mark a passing that we would want to gather together for.  People have felt alone with, and in, their grief, even more so than they may previously have done.  To help with this I have started a website called Giving Grief Words as an online resource where people can support each other by sharing the words they have read or written, that have helped them deal with or express their grief.  So, as I close this blog I thank you for your company on this journey and wish you all a sense of safety, peace and hopefulness for the future.  But definitely not an ending then, more the beginning of something else, the opening of a new chapter...

 

Oh, and what did I eventually tell our son?  I told him to carry on treating others as he would expect to be treated and to listen to everyone's story; and to find his own voice for his own story and use his words to maintain his connections to others...

 

www.givinggriefwords.co.uk 

 

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