Before COVID-19 started to menace our daily lives, I loaded a book of poetry on my kindle “The Art of Life” by Paul Durcan. I started to read a poem a day on the bus going home. As the bus made its way home to the hills, I rode with Durcan through the green mountains and moorlands of his native Ireland. In my favourite poem, “The Far Side of the Island” Durcan writes that he is “globally sad, but locally glad”, a phrase that has stayed with me in the first week or so of adjusting to my new reality.
The world around me seems to be spinning off its axis. I have Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting to try and keep business as usual, while all the time managing one crisis after another. These crises are not front-line medical emergencies, but rather, small cries of despair from individuals who can’t see how they will cope. Each call takes a little more and a little more from me, until at the end of each day I am depleted.
As often happens in times of despair, I long for my homeland. I think about the village of Eyam, in the Derbyshire Dales that I wrote about in “Talking Stream”. In that January blog post I wrote that Wakefield reminds me of Eyam, with its strong community spirit. When the black plague arrived from London carried on a bolt of cloth, the villagers put themselves in quarantine and banned anyone from entering the village. I read more about Eyam in Saturday’s Guardian newspaper. Simon Armitage, England’s current poet laureate, publishes a new poem Lockdown, referencing Eyam. I wipe down the handles and doorknobs and think of the coins left in vinegar at the margins of the village to pay for delivery of food. I am grateful to be in Wakefield where people text each other before going to the city, in case they can pick up necessities for neighbours.
The weekend immediately prior to starting to work from home, we had travelled to Toronto to see our daughter perform with the integrated dance company, Propeller dance. People were already practicing social distancing. But try telling the disability arts community not to hug! A week on, our daughter confesses she longs for the physical contact with her dancer colleagues. I read her Instagram post, and fall apart.
My body aches for the press of your body I know precisely the shape of each of you in my arms Your body has imprinted on me My body knows you I can feel each of you so distinctly Through memories of touch, sensation of form, that it aches The ghostly feeling of the memory of the sensation of you Every one of my friends and loved ones Your body in my arms I remember your smell I remember your warmth This feels like break ups This feels like grieving. Amelia Griffin: Instagram story March 23, 2020.
I recall the story of the couple from Derbyshire, the girl lived in Eyam and the boy in the adjacent village of Stoney Middleton. Realising the danger in spreading the plague, they practised social distancing, meeting in secret to shout to each other across the river. How they must have longed to touch. Thanks to the sacrifices made by the villagers of Eyam, many of whom died, the plague never travelled further north.
I limit my COVID news-watching and try to read only original scientific articles. I struggle with isolating myself from the global sadness. Our small businesses are forced to close their doors, and I see many people in our community having to make huge personal sacrifices to limit the spread of this modern day plague.
The gates on the covered bridge close, and I turn to focussing on the everyday small acts of kindness that makes Wakefield special. Every day, I am grateful to see people reaching out to each other, finding ways of meeting virtually, taking walks in the sunshine and keeping our community spirit strong. So, like the Durcan poem, in looking around me, I am, truly globally sad, but locally truly glad indeed.