Today Ireland enters Level 5 of its 'Living with Covid' plan. While I wasn't surprised by Monday's announcement, I was surprised by how I felt about it when it came. I want to share some thoughts here that will, I hope, be helpful to even a few of my fellow Islanders as we face into the next six weeks. If you have a role in helping others through what will be a challenging winter please take a moment, I'll try to make it worth your while.
My experience of the first wave of Covid restrictions in the Spring left me little to complain about. Of course my world shrank but at its smallest, it was still full of things to cherish. I am fortunate enough to have a garden which I share with two curious neighbourhood cats and my young adult children live just a short walk away, a walk that on sunny spring evenings with no traffic, good music and the scent of fresh cut grass was a joy to savour. I was well aware of other lives with tighter boundaries and greater loss. People living alone in small spaces or couples trying desperately to manage tangled cables of working lives and children's needs. My short sunlit walk was treasure when compared with the loss and longing of those whose families went from being just a few hours flying away to being as inaccessible as the moon. Seven glorious weeks in West Cork felt like paradise but I also knew there were others who were holding on to every moment of possible leave in anticipation of time finally shared with family on those moons.
Professionally life has never been busier. Utterly transformed and filled with new challenges. Distractingly intense at a time when distraction was a good thing. We learned new skills and while we missed much we surprised each other with how we coped. We took the time to take care and check in. We learned to read each other and know those days when space was needed. We learned that it was possible to open a conversation with 'today is not the day for me' and not feel naked or foolish.
So now our world is shrinking again. It's different this time. The sense that 'we're all in it together' is being tested. We have a greater sense of the mental health challenges that many are facing that may not be matched by an understanding of how to help. Our winter rituals which serve to overcome the lonely darkness are no longer available to us.
One of my personal challenges as we face into Level 5 is losing the sea. Twelve kilometres as the crow flies. Seven more than I'm allowed. My quiet weekly ritual of wind swept walks and good coffee disrupted. Yesterday morning I decided that the first calls of the day would be taken on a final recharge of the batteries by the water's edge. A small thing in the overall scheme of things I know.
By mid morning I was back at my desk, fully engaged in what is now the most constant thing in my daily routine: video calls with colleagues from all over the world. I was my usual self , working in my usual way doing the newly minted , virtual version of what someone used to refer to as 'The Tom Thing'. The new normal. Except it isn't.
The insight I'd finally like to share, with those of you who have been patient enough to read this far, is that for many people this world of virtual work may be their most 'normal' experience of the coming winter weeks. Their interactions with their work colleagues may be their only constant. Work may become distractingly intense and distraction may be just what they need. However I think we would do well to be sensitive to the challenges that they are being distracted from. For all that we hope to yield from the intensity of our daily interactions, we may also need to recognize that it will be much harder for people to acknowledge those days when life beyond the screen is difficult.
We will need to listen more intently for the signs of struggle or isolation because many of us will be working very hard to preserve the 'normality' of our working lives. We also need to refresh our commitment to each other and find new ways of signaling our willingness to help, of leaving our doors ajar so that others feel free to enter (virtually of course!).
Never forget that what we see is not all there is.
- Tom R.