Wednesday 8 December 2021

Pandemic in love

Two years is a long time between posts. Wisdom would have it that you should have something to say before you speak. This year has certainly given us much to think about. 

Relationships between and amongst those we love have been at the forefront of the minds of all of us as we endured one lockdown after another.

Human beings are not made for text, zoom, whatsapp, email or even phone calls; they were made to embrace, hug, kiss, to see each other eye to eye. All the technology humans have ever invented is a mimicry of the divine design. 90% of our human communication is body language, and without this as the mortar in our daily conversations the edifice of relationships begins to crumble. This year we have been forced to weigh-up the value of our body language against the risks it can pose: on the one hand we can only truly express love in person, through hugs, kisses, gestures - on the other, the risk of doing such may out-weigh the benefits.

Thinking of this, I was minded to think further on the nature of communication and human nature. I have mis-spoken to suggest that modern technology does not offer great advances. We can now share much, much more with those we love who are far away and that is truly valuable. Great love is shared across continents at an instant, between families spread worldwide, and amongst friends separated by work and geography. 

The key to touching hearts in 2020 has been effort and consistency - the old hard slog of working at relationships. It is something that comes naturally to each of us when we are with those we live or work with. Daily we re-evaluate each other and make amends. Somehow, this is more challenging over an infrequent call, text, video call or email. Each of us has needed to trust more, forgive easily, give the benefit of the doubt and ask for clarification. In my own work this has been the case: kind requests, usually delivered in corridor meetings, have been transformed into email edicts with the usual verbal courtesy lacking, and they have required more patience and consideration than might normally be needed. Listening has required an attention to detail, and sincere deliberation of possible interpretations before finally choosing the most charitable. 

Perhaps, what I have appreciated most throughout the pandemic is when I have seen and felt others make a genuine, time consuming effort: handwritten letters, long old chats, zoom meetings when everyone comes and has time to hang out, garden gate gifts given unexpectedly, home made wonders delivered through the post. There is an old adage that 'giving' is not giving until it costs you something - often this is related to the amount one might choose to donate to charity:a real gift to those in need might mean you go without. This year, however, our relationships have demanded that same of us: they have been cultivated by the time we are willing to give them without benefiting from the immediate reward of the company of those we love. I, for one, am grateful for every card, note, handmade gift, long phone call or garden gate visit.

Yesterday was the Feast of the Holy Family - one of my favourites. It would be a mistake to think that it is a feast about the perfect family living in a perfect world. It is a tale of struggle, disaster, trust, companionship, and faith: a national census, prejudice, genocide, refugees, and homelessness in the face of starting a new, vulnerable family. How much effort it must have taken for Mary and Joseph to understand each other and their own separate wills; how much more to understand the Divine will they were called to complete, and more still to communicate their situation and desires to others. 'No room at the inn' communicates more than the experience of the night of Jesus' birth, methinks. It was love, of course, which kept them going, kept them determined to find shelter in Bethlehem, throughout the flight to Egypt, on return to Nazareth years later.