…And the wisdom to know the difference

Having undoubtedly stumbled upon the barren wastelands of middle age, it would be far too easy to look back upon past events and pay gratuitous homage to regret. The dreams and aspirations of youth seem strangely unattainable now, and life has acquired an almost brutal propensity for galloping inexorably onwards, whether we like it or not.

And yet, if one can just look beyond the aging reflection in the mirror (and embrace with gratitude the many blessings that life has bestowed upon us) there’s a chance that something of the indomitable adolescent spirit of yesteryear, just might endure.

Without a doubt, the last twelve months have afforded plenty of opportunity for reflection and a great many people have found themselves looking at ways in which they might alter certain aspects of their lives – either through necessity, choice, or a combination of the two. 

Only a matter of days ago, I was reading an article entitled ‘Mental Health and the Covid-19 Pandemic’ and it was fascinating (and somewhat alarming) to learn of the many and varied emotional reactions that are likely to have been triggered by such a virus. Mercifully for many, resilience will have come to the fore and indeed, some people will have found new strengths and developed fresh coping mechanisms. However, for those who have been exposed to significant trauma, depression and anxiety are likely to have either surfaced or intensified and will no doubt have been exacerbated by the need to shield or self-isolate.     

For me personally, the aspect I struggled most with was having my freedom (coupled with the ability to make any plans whatsoever) suspended indefinitely. Without the prospect of a family holiday on the horizon (and feeling utterly starved of any external form of social interaction) I’ll happily admit that the working week seemed significantly less alluring! However, having two young sons to take care of gave me the purpose that I so desperately needed – and we often talk about the endless bike rides and home baking sessions that carried us all through.

And so, being mindful of the fact that 2020 taught us that we can never be entirely in control of our own destiny, the sentiments of the ‘Serenity Prayer’ seem as pertinent now, as ever they were:

‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.’

Preparing to be unlocked

Having recently entered the next stage of the government’s plan to ease restrictions, there’s a sense of cautious optimism in the air. We’ve been here before, of course, but with the roll-out of 30 million+ COVID vaccines, there is every reason to feel quietly confident that we are taking back some of the control that was so ruthlessly snatched from us 12 months ago. Here’s hoping that the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ is not simply a train coming the other way, ready to knock us off our feet once more…

‘Daring to hope’ by Gaynor Hall

Tell me it’s over, the incarceration
That stifled the freedom of many a nation,
Prevented the sharing of happiness or grief,
And threw up behaviour that ‘beggared belief’.

Playgrounds fell silent, parks were left bare,
Homes and gardens deemed unsafe to share,
Bus stops deserted, restaurants too,
Roads less congested; used by so few.

Hospitals quite literally bursting their seams,
Struggling to cope with a virus so extreme
That people were dying – regardless of age,
With figures quite simply impossible to gauge.

But slowly the tide has started to turn,
Children are back in their classrooms to learn,
Businesses fighting so hard for survival
Preparing to open, to start their revival.

And so, there is only one question to ask,
(Although it might seem an onerous task)
What will you cherish, and what will you change –
Having lived through an era unparalleled and strange?

So long, farewell!

As this calendar year finally draws to a close, I’m fairly confident that most of us will be extremely glad to see the back of 2020. There have been challenges aplenty, moments of anxiety and despair, and my heart goes out to all those who have lost loved ones to Covid-19; a virus that shows no mercy and seems intent upon wreaking havoc for some time to come. However, it is my firm belief that better times lie ahead and that this ‘new and silent enemy’ will eventually succumb to the fortitude and ingenuity of the human spirit. May the Lord ‘bless you and keep you’ until then.     

The Uninvited Guest

I don’t wish to sound ungrateful; I don’t want to seem unkind
But you’ve rather outstayed your welcome and taken up too much time.
When you crept up upon our communities, silent and somewhat shy,
None of us knew quite how potent you’d be – we hoped that you’d pass swiftly by.

You entered our homes uninvited, invaded our children’s schools,
You attacked the fit and the vulnerable, no thought for obeying the rules.  
You cancelled our hobbies and interests, you sabotaged parties and treats,
You even scuppered our festive plans; the latter was no mean feat!

And just when we thought that we’d found a solution – two vaccines quickly invented,
You chose to mutate, re-group and persist, local lockdowns circumvented.
You ripped through our cities, our towns big and small, without any sign of stopping,
Case numbers rose (as did hospital admissions) the death rates were truly shocking.

So, forgive me if I’m not a huge fan of yours, ‘Master Covid’ you cruel imposter,
You’re made yourself known through sadness and loss, and managed much fear to foster.
You’ve won a few battles (I’ll grant you that) but you’ve certainly not won the war,
With family, friendship and faith on our side, our spirit is sure to endure.    

One step forward, two steps back…

Do you ever get the feeling that ‘the man upstairs’ is having a jolly good laugh at you? Or that, instead of sailing through the day’s challenges with consummate skill, you have somehow managed to chalk up another ‘epic fail’ in this thing that we refer to as the ‘rich tapestry of life’?

Like so many people, I often go to bed feeling that I haven’t handled things as well as I would have liked, promising fervently to myself that I will do better tomorrow.  Guilt (it would seem) is a privilege reserved for over-stretched parents struggling (and inevitably failing) to be something to everyone. However, New Year’s Eve 2019 sticks out in my memory as being one of those rare occasions when things had gone surprisingly well…

The day itself had passed without incident (i.e. the boys had managed to refrain from maiming each other) and the evening was one of high spirits, optimism, and good cheer. Ok, Ok, I might have been tucked up in bed with a cocoa chaser shortly before 11.30pm – but let’s be honest; none of us are as young as we were…

You get the gist though – 2020 was meant to be a fantastic year all round.

But even before Covid-19 reared its ugly head, I had a feeling that this was not going to be a chart topper of a year.

2020 began with a dismal January (aren’t they always?!) and as February crawled reluctantly into view, I was struck by a deep sense of foreboding. The boys were seemingly hell-bent upon vying for my attention at all costs (sibling rivalry being very much alive and well, chez Hall); there was an inspection looming at work; and my examining work was on the verge of going paperless – a truly terrifying prospect for a self-professed technophobe like me!

With characteristic tenacity (and one or two bouts of slightly unhinged ranting) I managed to gradually bend the boys to my will. The inspection came and went relatively painlessly – with resounding endorsements that we were, in fact, doing a good job. The new examining software arrived and, after two fairly gruelling days of CPD, I dared to believe that I was, in fact, not as incompetent as I had first thought. Whoop, whoop!

Cue half term (and some much-needed R & R) followed by a period of normality and the opportunity to test out these newfound technological ‘skills’ of mine. Surely, things were set fair…

But ‘Covid’ had other ideas…

The prospect of teaching without an inspection,

A rare opportunity for private reflection.

Letting the children evolve and develop,

Allowing them time for their dreams to envelop

Their daily pursuit of excitement and fun,

Had sprung back to life; it had finally begun.

But then came the briefings from Boris and friends

“This virus from China is showing no end.

We need you to distance, stay home and save lives”,

Cue the mad rush for basic supplies…

“Schools need to close, you should all work from home,

But keyworkers have our permission to roam”.

Never before had parents felt so tested,

“Teachers have it easy”, they’d previously protested

But now they could see just how much was involved,

Two hours in, and a fading resolve

To get little Charlotte to practise her sums,

Whilst Joshua argued and twiddled his thumbs.

Bike rides and baking all came to the fore,

Countless disruptions on Zoom, Skype and more,

Exams were now cancelled, bright futures on hold,

Jobs were to suffer; the virus grew bold.

No time for trialling the examining app,

Face to face teaching now (sadly) ‘a wrap’.

But amidst all the sadness, restrictions, and fear,

Some positive elements began to appear.

Parents took time to reflect and respond

To children who needed them, craving that bond.

Neighbours enquired of each other more freely,

A much nicer world (if we’re honest) really.

Pollution diminished, our skies morphing blue,

Roads less congested; used by so few.

A sense of community slowly reviving,

Stories of encouragement, patients surviving

This silent enemy, the source of such fear,

Let’s pray we can vanquish it early next year.