To party or not to party?
We were invited to a street party today – a VE(Victory in Europe) celebration. It was an invitation to join people who have been very kind to us in recent weeks and whom we join in the street every Thursday evening to applaud the emergency services. It’s a public holiday. Bunting and flags were flying from houses, war songs being played. Social distancing was well observed – tape measures laid down. All well and good. It was an attempt to grow the community spirit which has developed at pace in our neighbourhood during the pandemic.
And yet we were slightly uneasy about it. There’s no doubt that, in our quiet cul-de-sac in a leafy suburb, we were testing the edges of the emergency laws currently in place. We were doing what many people living in city apartments are unable to do, even in public parks. It was without doubt a ‘gathering’ of people not from the same household- everyone in the street had an invitation through their letterbox. We may have been celebrating the freedom from tyranny won 75 years ago but we were ourselves exercising freedoms that many are unable to exercise. The temptation for us all is to push the boundaries, to test the edges of the law – and who can blame us? It gave us pause for thought!
But there were other reasons for our unease about today’s celebration. Only two people present at the party were alive in 1945 (and they weren't us!!). And we did wonder about the whole question of mixed messages. This particular public holiday and the flying of Union Jacks everywhere marks the 75th anniversary of ‘Victory in Europe’ in 1945. Such celebrations do encourage a tendency to forget that the UK did not win the war alone. We were joined by the USA, millions from throughout the Commonwealth and Europe in a joint resistance to the Nazi threat. And then there’s the ultimate irony - the UK is about to separate from many of those who fought with us in Europe as we exit the EU.
In the end, we went to the get-together. We talked and laughed and sang a couple of wartime songs. We enjoyed getting to know our neighbours better. We know that, for some who live alone, the neighbourhood solidarity is a direct contribution to their mental health. The whole experience was a gentle sigh of relief from the restricted life under lock-down. It has created more good will between neighbours than there has been in the twenty years we have lived in this house. Perhaps the best words of the day came from our 5-year old neighbour who told us that the flags were out to remember ‘the time when people stopped fighting’.
All the same, we are aware of the precious fragility of the freedom we enjoy to make our own choices and the dangers of exercising our freedom in unequal ways. Our small dilemma reflects the much larger decisions to be made by our global societies over the coming weeks. There are conflicting interests to be delicately weighed. The biggest is between lives and livelihoods. And environmental considerations are paramount.
We are not in positions which would require us to make those decisions on a grand scale. But people in positions of responsibility – politicians, managers, CEOs, will have to make those tough choices. If we can become a society of people who support them as they do that. If we can learn to talk and listen to each other respectfully, to recognise that decisions are not always clear cut but need research and thought, then perhaps we will begin to make our way towards that better world where ‘people stop fighting’.