This week I was hoping to be living a simple life on a sailing boat, scuba diving in the Bahamas. I had a plan. We all had plans before Coronavirus19. Mine was to be ‘communing’ with marine life sixty feet down in the ocean. As it is, I am in lock-down in Scotland where, on a sunny day, I can paddle in a rather cold North Sea.
All winter I had been looking forward to this special trip. A combination of diving and conservation work with a small group of us living aboard the Juliet, a specialist sailing ship, in the Caribbean. What an exciting prospect, another of the diving challenges I’ve set myself since fully recovering my health.
By March I was beginning to get the usual pre-trip nervous anticipation. There was so much I was intending to ‘perfect’, starting with improving my buoyancy and adjusting the amount of extra weight I needed to keep me down. It was sixteen pounds of weight last time and I surely need to reduce that! I’d made a list of other routines that would improve life above and below water, from squeezing into my skin-tight wet suit to trying out new ways to get back on the boat in a heavy swell. The solution here might be to take off my buoyancy jacket and tank in the water – those sixteen pounds in the pockets are quite a weight. I intended to enjoy myself; identify more species of fish, take time to really look at mammals and corals and then, immerse myself in the conservation tasks. This kind of diving is responsible, and I appreciate being part of the movement that is protecting and improving our oceans and marine life. I was also bubbling with anticipation at the prospect of seeing old friends. I only took up diving in my late sixties and it has been a source of unexpected delight. Divers are such a kind and caring bunch of people. This time DiverMojo had organised Barbara as my buddy. We know each other from two previous conservation trips including the Manta Ray expedition to the Maldives. Barbara lives in Florida and, as well as being a delightful person, she’s a great diver and photographer and knows so much about marine wildlife. Being her buddy would mean I would learn a lot. I was slowly becoming excited and bingeing on David Attenborough Blue Planet programmes.
Suddenly in March, and with little warning, Coronavirus19 arrived. The world stopped, and we were grounded. I was in Scotland, five hundred miles away from my family. Like many other people I wasn’t where I expected to be nor, at that moment, wanted to be. It was uncomfortable, scary and no one knew what would happen next.
For two months I have remained locked down in Scotland and, because I am above the ‘golden age’ of seventy, I have been completely grounded. In those first few days we were all reeling in shock. The disruption to life was unparalleled and frightening. The cancellation of short-term plans and concerns about the unknown future affected us all. I decided I would try to stay as calm as possible whilst events unfolded. There was now time to think and make a choice about how I dealt with this new world.
Option One was to stay with the disappointment, feel resentful that the adventure I had saved up for had been completely taken away. I could also dwell on what weeks of isolation might mean and become really miserable and depressed; not seeing my family for months, maybe getting the virus, being very ill and even dying without seeing them. That sounded quite dramatic but it was possible. I put Option One reactions aside and looked at Option Two.
Option Two was to accept the situation, pack away my diving gear and turn my attention to what I could do with what I could see was an unexpected gift of time. Was there anything I now had time to do? Something I had been putting off for years because ‘I hadn’t the time’? Was this a time when I would learn anything new about myself or about the community I live in? I decided that Option Two sounded more positive and comfortable and like many people, I let go of my plans, closed my door and waited.
Sometimes it felt reassuringly refreshing – no pressures to complete tasks, no deadlines, no need to tidy the house in case anyone dropped round, no daily routine. At other times I would put pressure on myself and I would find myself scrubbing the en-suite shower room, sorting out old herbs and spices or reading a pile of old love letters.
A satisfying if somewhat unusual repertoire but it appears this type of activity has become widespread, even endemic, after lock down.
At other times it was difficult. There were low days, fuelled by the absence of certainty about anything. From food supplies and transport to appointments to see a doctor, from getting a television aerial fixed to would we ever get to hug each other again? Added to these worries was the backdrop of news from around the world, the pandemic, the severity of Coronavirus19 and the mounting numbers of deaths. As I picked my way from day to day, often not knowing which day of the week it was, thoughts about that diving trip evaporated. Like the rest of the world I had been stopped. It was eerie and like being frozen in time.
I waited not knowing what I could do or, rather more, knowing there was nothing I could do. The reality was stark. The Covoid19 pandemic was killing people in hundreds of thousands and turning lights off world-wide. Life was changed forever, and no one seemed to be at the helm. I’ve experienced periods of darkness and despair in my life and when I’ve reached the bottom and can do nothing else, I remember, as a last resort, to ask the universe (God) for some help. So that’s what I did. A simple question – ‘Help. What can I do?’ I know from experience, you just leave it at that and trust. So, I got on with living and allowed things to happen. I knew I had to care for myself, and I got up when I felt like it and not when the clock struck eight. I took showers using toiletries previously saved ‘for special occasions’. I tied my hair back with exotic scarves and started to make DIY videos to share with and amuse my friends. I spent a lot of time in my small garden, appreciating the colour of the vibrant yellow petals bursting out of the tightly packed daffodil heads, I began to make sour dough bread (seems a lot of us are doing that) then fed the birds with the first failures of rock hard bread.
I began to play the piano again and revisited my Follow Grandma blogs and photos. The darkness shifted and lifted.
But the question still remained – Was there anything I could do? Anything I could offer? What might I learn from this experience? Many of us are asking the same important questions and we can see from the wonderful community responses that people are listening out for each other and sharing and caring at many levels. Good communication is vital and one of the reasons for my current blogs is to put across clear messages that will acknowledge and applaud individuals who are already building this kinder and fairer world. Additionally I want us to encourage others to join in.
The question ‘What can I do here for others? was still in my head. Often the answer is quite simple and seemingly comes from nowhere. Here’s a small vignette of what happened after I asked that question six weeks ago.
Some of you know I’m a Trustee of HOPE Organic Garden, a local charity which provides training for people with disabilities. Under Government guidelines we had to close to the public and, without customers in our ‘Shop in the Garden’, our organic fruits and vegetables were in danger of going on the compost heap! Without leaving home I discovered a new Fresh Food Bank had recently been set up to feed the many new hungry families in Arbroath. When local businesses closed, there was no work and families suddenly had no money to buy food. At the same time the schools were closed and children who would normally have free meals were at home. A small local charity, Reach Across, responded to the crisis immediately and is still providing fresh food boxes and hot meals to these vulnerable families.
I became a go-between! The result is that over 40 boxes including HOPE organic vegetables and fruit are going regularly to local families. The next step has been helping people to make a meal with the vegetables. So each week I’ve devised an “Easy Peasy’ soup recipe to go in the box. I’ve rapidly learned new office skills – printing, laminating and guillotining – all in my study. Sandra picks up the recipes for Reach Across each week and I never leave home! Who would have thought I’d be writing soup recipes in April and May? I was supposed to be diving!
This is a simple example of how skilful harnessing of individuals’ skills has helped to alleviate the problem of hunger here and make a huge difference to people’s lives. There are many more examples like this from around the country and, as we move into the new world, we have to identify them, eradicate the causes of the problems and make sure supportive systems, built on solid foundations, are put in place
The world has had a wake-up call. Coronavirus19 has changed things irrevocably. Politicians continued to say it was impossible to stop things or effect real environmental change for at least another decade. As I look at the scene, I have a humorous thought that God (the Universe) wasn’t prepared to wait any longer and said, “Watch me!” And, lo and behold, overnight the world was stopped – by a single virus.
We hear encouraging news about the environmental benefits lock-down is bringing ; news that swans are swimming in the canals in Venice, wildlife is flourishing, bird song is clear, toxic clouds are vanishing and city centres have been transformed.
The questions now are. ‘Do we like these changes? Are they changes we want to keep and develop? Are they changes we will support? If the answers are ‘Yes’, we have to look at new ways of everyday living and this won’t be easy. (The role of governments, multi-nationals and the economy is a huge part of this debate but not for this blog). There are big personal questions for all of us.
The first question for you is ‘What changes am I prepared to make to my lifestyle?
I have started asking myself questions. Will I travel less? Will I use my car less? Will I eat less meat? Will I be more seasonal and local in my shopping? Am I prepared to change my behaviour? Am I prepared to make my voice heard clearly on questions of climate change? These questions are ones I have time to really ponder in lock-down Scotland. I think about the ocean conservation work I’ve dipped into and how I would miss the astonishing beauty of the underwater world if I were to cut down on my foreign travel. It’s a choice.
Meanwhile, I have moments of humour when I imagine a friendly octopus sitting on a coral outcrop, scratching his head with a tentacle and musing ” I wonder what happened to the tourists this year?” That’s when I wish I could draw cartoons. Maybe I have time to learn.
In March my dream faded and felt sad that I wouldn’t be engaging with turtles and rays and helping to rebuild coral reefs. Instead I’ve helped to rebuild a fractured coral reef in my community. Both jobs needed doing but, in this case, the Universe made its priority quite clear when it altered my plans.
Take a look at what possible action the Universe is sending towards you. Maybe you can help rebuild a small coral reef in your community.