Dusk is one of my favourite times to walk. The lights are on but the curtains aren’t yet drawn. I love the glimpses of what people are doing at home during the late afternoon. One dank grey afternoon this week, I saw through a front room into the kitchen where three figures – a mother and two children were sitting around the kitchen table. It was about 4.30 in the afternoon – I know it as a difficult in-between sort of time for parents and children who have been at home all day.
I thought of my own three grandchildren and the millions of other children confined to home by the pandemic, couped up indoors by the winter weather. I remembered from my days as teacher and parent how difficult children could be on wet days when there was ‘no outdoor play’.
That was just one day. But day after endless day, families around the world are still being locked up together by this pandemic. Tired parents are trying to supervise their children’s schoolwork and help them with it while trying to get their own work done, striving early and late, stressed maybe by career pressures and/or fear of work drying up. Some of them are worried about family members or bereaved by loss of them. We underestimate the pressures on families of lockdown life at our peril.
Like parents and grandparents everywhere I ask myself many questions. Is there anyone out there not wondering these days how and when will it all end? How do we get to a bright future unscathed? or at least with as few scars as possible?
If the future’s another country, none of us, to quote Zadie Smith, ‘has got a passport!’ Or have we?
It seems to me that the only passport to the future that I or anyone else has is what we have developed of those human qualities that make up everyday wisdom: courage, compassion, generosity, hopefulness, kindness, patience, perseverance – and a sense of humour!
Some of these qualities are natural in a minority of people. Generally speaking they have to be learned by teaching and especially by example. In practice, we learn them by stumbling through relationships, falling down, getting up and starting again!
All our hopes for a bright and better future are so much more likely to be realised if these processes are happening -not perfectly, but well-enough - in tired locked-down families.
On Wednesday, many of us heard one young woman talk movingly about stumbling towards the light in the ‘never-ending shade’ of difficult circumstances. Amanda Gorman, National Youth Poet Laureate in the US, offered a hopeful vision of the future at the inauguration of President Biden. From what she said, Amanda Gorman hadn’t had the most auspicious beginnings. She described herself as a skinny Black girl, descended from slaves and raised by a single mother. And yet now, here she was, speaking with wisdom, passion and skill, supporting (some might say outshining!) the president of the United States and offering a bright and comforting vision of the future:
The new dawn blooms as we free it For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it If only we’re brave enough to be it.