Here in Wales, we have recently passed two significant milestones. The first was the much reported news that it has been a year since the first case of coronavirus was reported in Wales back on the 28th of February 2020. Patient Zero had been discovered; a man from Swansea returning from a skiing holiday in Northern Italy, and so began the story of lockdown in Wales and the now familiar voice of Mark Drakeford’s regular covid updates.
Patient zero, Mark Hosking from the mumbles, spent 17 days in an induced coma, but went on to make a full recovery. But sadly, not everyone else’s story of infection has had an happy ending. Since then, there have been a further 203,988 reported cases, and tragically, 5,344 recorded deaths.
It’s not the kind of anniversary you want to remember.
But a second major milestone has also been reached, and that is the news that one million people in Wales (a third of the whole population) has already received their vaccination, with plans for all adults in Wales to be offered the vaccine by the end of July.
News is slowly beginning to leak out about restrictions for schools, local business, shops and even the “stay at home” rule being lifting in the not too distant future. Maybe not a full roadmap, but certainly major directions of travel, are beginning to emerge.
These are encouraging signs after a subdued Christmas and New Years celebration seemed to put a dampener on the growing optimism towards the end of last year.
However, as some of us begin to turn our thoughts to the future; we can’t forget those who cannot forget the past.
For many people the sacrifices required to battle through the onslaught of the attack of this virus have come at a painfully high cost. The struggle for people who have elderly relatives in care homes, especially those with dementia or Alzheimer’s it remains a difficult time. I was hearing recently of families who are actively not placing relatives who need specialist care in care homes for fear that they would be cut off from contact with them.
For single people and widowers, the life of self-isolation has been a uniquely difficult time, many feeling intensely vulnerable. Lockdown lethargy has stolen a lot of energy, with many reporting a disturbance to the normal patterns of life leading to a lack of motivation to take care of themselves in the usual ways.
For others the future of their job security, and ability to provide for others, has come under serious threat or been stolen away entirely. Furlough schemes have managed to save some, but not all. For those working in retail, hospitality, tourism and entertainment industry these have been dark days indeed – especially small businesses and the self employed.
For those working in health care, there have peaks in personal risk and stress levels not known in our generation. Hours worked, measures taken, risks balanced, decisions made, these have all increased on a daily basis. The impact on their own mental and physical wellbeing, and on their relationships with loved ones, cannot be underestimated. Others have been affected by their planned medical procedures being put on hold, or the very real fear of not wanting to go to the surgeries, clinics, pharmacies and hospitals right now.
For those in education, for pupils, students, teachers, lectures and staff, there have likewise been uncharted waters to navigate – and not without cost, and potentially far reaching consequences. The phrase “The Class of 2020” will probably be with us for a long time to come.
And, of course, there are those who have lost loved ones – who have either died from this disease, or have had to grieve and mourn during this pandemic without the usual support of family and friends. Funerals with few in attendance sat at a socially distanced from each other, and for some, not be able to attend at all.
And of course, the the disruption to church life has been very real; our usual ways of fellowship, corporate worship, mission, serving, either completely shelved or taking new forms that bare little resemblance to what we’ve known before. Where there have been important lessons for us to learn, you can’t deny that is has been the most painful way in which to learn them.
Whether we have personally been affected by any of these circumstances, or just constantly worried that we might be – they are also those who are experiencing new levels of anxiety, tension and depression. Living, working or studying alone can feel very lonely, unrewarding and unmotivating. I spoke to someone on the phone only yesterday who described themselves in “survival mode” – just making it through another day, another week, another month…
Turning a very long corner…
For those people we’ve just listed (which I imagine will be the majority of people), we perhaps shouldn’t be surprised if the vaccine itself is not the turning point we are looking for. “Getting back to normality” simply won’t be possible as easily or as quickly as taking an injection.
Stress is our inbuilt warning system – it’s constantly asking what level of cortisol and adrenaline our bodies need to run from a threat (flight) or towards it (fight). For many of us our the sensitivity level on these internal alarm systems has reached a high level, and it will take a while for these responses and reactions to decrease.
You may find yourself sensitive at times, tense at others, or more tired and lethargic at other times from dealing with those long term levels of high stress. Emotions are close to the surface – I must confess to having a huge lump in my throat even as I type these words. This is perfectly normal, there is no need to be frustrated with ourselves or others. This will simply a while to calm and subside. And that is ok too.
We will need time.
Time to process, time to heal, time to breath again.
Time to remember, time to grieve, time to pray.
Time with ourselves, time with others, and crucially – time with God.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.
Can I encourage you today, to give yourself the time you need.
There is a Celtic blessing by George MacDonald that says:
Do not hurry as you walk with grief; it does not help the journey.
Walk slowly, pausing often: do not hurry as you walk with grief.
Be not disturbed by memories that come unbidden.
Swiftly forgive; and let Christ speak for you unspoken words.
Unfinished conversation will be resolved in Him.
Be not disturbed.
Be gentle with the one who walks with grief.
If it is you, be gentle with yourself.
Swiftly forgive; walk slowly, pausing often.
Take time, be gentle as you walk with grief.
CELTIC DAILY PRAYER
These are incredible words here – walk slowly, pause often, don’t hurry, be gentle.
We all need time. How we “take the time” will look a little different for each of us. I have always found worship music to be healing, and here is a song I have returned to again and again:
Be gentle with yourself today, walk slowly – and remember that the vaccine (though offering huge hope) is not our true hope for the spiritual healing we all really need.
Only God can heal our hearts, and when we make time to meet with Him, we find the turning points to true and lasting peace.
Praying for you.
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