A tale of three Thursdays (and a Monday)
It was a Thursday afternoon in March when I heard the news about the schools closing as I was driving back home from an appointment in the city. My children came home a couple of hours later, bags full of worksheets and exercises to complete over the next two weeks (did we think it was going to be just the two weeks then? Or did we already have a feeling this was bigger? I can’t remember). It was a strange and unsettling afternoon, so much so that I had to put words to paper just to process the transition we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of. The article I wrote about that can be found here.
And as the initial unsettlement eased and we transitioned into our new existence, we did get comfortable with our new rhythm. Looking back on it now I mainly remember the good things. Long, languid days where time seemed to take on a different dimension. A distinct lack of concentration, yes, feelings of overwhelm, yes, days where even the smallest of things seemed to require effort that I just wasn’t able to muster up, most definitely. Disappointment over cancelled events, family gatherings, school graduations. But also this: trips to the park we were blessed to have within our 2km radius, waffles for breakfast, jigsaw puzzles, movie nights. Lazy mornings with coffee and newspapers. Zoom calls with friends, some I hadn’t seen in years. Random acts of kindness, from a surprise flower delivery to dinners left on each other’s doorsteps. And time.
Time, because there was no pressure to be anywhere, time because the world stood still.
And it was quiet. The world was quiet. Filled with birdsong, and people out walking and cycling instead of driving. When I had to take the car, the roads were empty, like driving at night-time only it wasn’t.
I liked it.
Then, on another Thursday many Thursdays later, as restrictions began to ease, I found myself queuing at the lights at the roundabout down the road from us. It is a notoriously busy roundabout which I had been sailing through for months. Now there were suddenly plenty of cars – nowhere near its pre-Covid heyday, but enough for me to notice the change. The world wasn’t quiet anymore and I wasn’t sure I was comfortable with it.
“It’s good, though, mum,” said my pragmatic and observant six-year-old. “It means that not so many people are getting the coronavirus and people won’t be dying anymore.”
And of course he was right. But I missed the quiet and wasn’t sure I was ready to give it up. I realised that my uncomfortableness, my sense of loss and longing for a simpler time that already seemed past recall, signalled that there were emotions associated with this change, too, that I was going to have to process. That it was another transition. But it was more than that. I could go through the transition, sure, process my feelings around what I was leaving behind, taking time to find my feet again and deal with what was ahead. But I distinctly remember feeling very strongly that I wasn’t sure I would actually get used to it again. To the busyness and the traffic and the people.
I’ll always be missing the quiet, I thought.
But here’s the thing. It’s another Thursday, we’re now in June, and I am heading into town for an errand. I still don’t really go into the city much, still preferring to do most of my shopping in my local supermarket or online. But it doesn’t feel at all strange or unusual, and apart from the fact that I realise my parallel parking might have gone a bit rusty these past few months, and it initially looks a bit strange to see people queuing everywhere, it all feels pretty normal. And on the way in I had got stuck in traffic at the roundabout without giving it a second thought.
And then, on the last Monday in June, my son celebrated his 6th class graduation. Held in the local church, with only students present to allow adherence to social distancing guidelines, it was still an actual event that we got dressed up for and left the house for.
As we walked down to the church that morning, him in his school uniform for the last time and me in a reasonably nice frock, memories of past moments like this one rushed through me.
Of other events we had walked towards in this manner, from first days at school to birthday parties, to weddings, funerals, and national holiday parades. Of the importance of being able to celebrate milestones, of gathering with others for a common purpose, of having somewhere to be. Cars were whizzing by, there were people everywhere. We were back to being on a schedule. We had somewhere to be. And not only was I already used to it, it felt good.
These past four months have been a perhaps unparalleled source of reflection for many of us. Our stories are different, our experiences are different, we were and are, as it has been so succinctly pointed out, in the same storm but not in the same boat. But still the communality of the experience has mattered. Perhaps it makes us more primed to make sense of it, or makes us feel less alone. And understanding how we can recognise and deal with psychological concepts like transitions can be helpful because they are linked to mindset rather than specific circumstances. And as we move forward, I hope we can all take something with us from each of the phases we have gone through. My eagerness to embrace the quiet for example, surely tells me something about what is important to me even as I am rejoicing in a reopening society. Because more than one thing can be true. And the traffic, that to me had come to symbolise one thing against another? Turns out it wasn’t really about that.
Ingrid Seim is a psychological coach and the founder of Avenues Consultancy & Coaching. She is also the Secretary for Network Ireland Cork, a not for profit national organisation for women in business, the professions and the arts.
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