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Missing the communal bits

There was a beautiful yellow flower growing in the lawn during the summer. It bloomed in the morning but disappeared every afternoon at about four, pulling its petals into the nucleus around which they were anchored. In its evening camouflage of green it hid in the grass until the sun tempted it to show itself again, glorious in its bright, yellow daywear.

As the winter settles into its depth and our crescent of the planet sinks to the nadir of its long sleep, we too return to our nucleus. For a few short days we fold ourselves into that small pod of our kin, until the year turns and we shake ourselves into another January.

For many, there will be no novelty in this turning to the hearth, most of us have been confined to the orbit of our inner circle for months; the only difference will be the tinsel and turkey.

What I will miss this year are the communal bits, the gatherings, the sounds of the carols and the echoes of the perennial Christmas hits, sweetly sung or belted out in their respective beauty and raucousness. I will miss squeezing through packed pubs to meet friends, I will miss the spontaneous hugs on the street from those who are home for the few days and in town to get the last few bits.

I will miss wandering from house to house. ‘Dropping in’ will not happen, only arranged encounters organised with the precision of a state visit by a delicate monarch with an allergy to everything.

The airports and ferry terminals wont echo with the whoops of joy as exit doors slide open and overloaded trolleys are abandoned by returnees who run like wild things to throw their arms around those who stayed at home.

There will be many an absence, absences that won’t be compensated for by Zoom, Skype, phone or facetime. There is no virtual replacement for the satin touch of the skin, the sight and feel of the face globed in your hands. Nothing in cyber can imitate the intimacy of that last nocturnal peep you take at the slumbering, curly heads sleeping deep on pillows that smell of home.

When we look back at the broad sweep of this epic year we will realise it was the communal bits that saved us. These communal efforts of our state, our public servants, our volunteers, our private companies, and most of all, the quiet courage of those who, day after day, returned to the hospitals and care homes bringing an armoury of skills and the balm of humanity as they faced the unimaginable.

It is the communal bits that kept it together for us, and it is a communal bit, a historic sharing of knowledge and information, that brought us vaccines, manufactured miracles of human ingenuity that will enable us to turn and move on.

The year 2020 will forever carry the label, ‘a year like no other’. When they replay the old newsclips and reel in this year, no doubt the yellow and black signs urging us to stay apart, the sight of people wearing masks and the sombre pictures of coffins on army trucks will be employed to tell the tale.

Many stories will be told of profound and redeeming acts of human kindness, of simple things that made an extraordinary difference; neighbours shopping for one another, friends visiting at a distance to make sure everything is alright and strangers holding the hands of strangers, easing them along the last stretch into the beyond.

As Christmas 2020 begins the tidings from laboratories across the planet are tidings of comfort and joy that merit a global chorus of Hallelujah. In this year like no other, our fragility and ingenuity came face-to face, and while we have reason to hope that our ingenuity will have the upper hand, the stark reminders of our fragility should temper any arrogance.

There is a tangible and understandable nervousness as we face 2021, things have changed, but how deep and enduring the change remains to be seen. I am reminded of TS Eliot’s poem, ‘The Journey of the Magi’ where he imagines the impact the visit to Bethlehem had on the triumvirate of wise men,

“We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.”

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