Paul Healy’s Week

I compare Covid to a tsunami or earthquake; there is immediate devastation…but when it’s over, and we get to survey the wreckage, that too will be devastating. Then, and only then, will the full extent of the rebuilding challenge be evident

 

Every day 

 

Definitely not the best of times, probably not the worst of times, almost certainly the strangest of times…. 

  There’s still a journey to travel, but this past week has arguably been the most positive in this 14-month Covid-19 mystery tour.   

  This week, I thought I’d reflect on those fourteen months, during which time our lives have been turned upside down. Life now is completely unrecognisable from how it was before the pandemic. 

  It’s not widely known, but just prior to the pandemic kicking off, George Lee was doing a few nixers most weekends…as an ever-smiling clown at kids’ parties. 

  Meantime, a group of egotistical scientists –

 frustrated because nobody ever seemed to recognise them in the street – had set up a WhatsApp group so they could discuss marketing ideas and share the contact details of showbiz agents. 

  Shares in Zoom and sales in bananas were both plummeting. Set designers and researchers on the Claire Byrne Live Show were under threat of being laid off. 

  Okay, none of the above is true…well, the bit about George Lee definitely isn’t.

  You will forgive (maybe even appreciate) my humourous approach. 

  

Unprecedented change

 

I have so many newspapers at home, I occasionally come across one from before February 2020. It’s weird to read headlines predating Covid-19. 

  When the pandemic gripped the country, and that proper first lockdown – the ‘Mother of all Lockdowns’ – kicked in, Ireland experienced unprecedented change. 

  That first lockdown was a huge shock to our psyche, although it also had its beautiful moments. The second lockdown wasn’t nearly as memorable. By then, we were already becoming fatigued, feeling cheated by the refusal of Covid-19 to get over itself quickly. 

  By Lockdown 2, reality was hitting home. By then, this was a nation worn down by death, illness, stress, loneliness, fear too. The entire world was traumatised. 

  Then, before Christmas, we thought we could see light. Suddenly, there was hope, the prospect of a pathway back to the recent past. So it seemed. Instead, a new wave of the virus struck, and vaccine roll-out began in a stumbling, erratic manner. Demoralised by an unexpected crushing of optimism, a vulnerable public struggled, punch-drunk by this flurry of new setbacks. Dancing again to Covid’s morbid tune. 

  January was torture, long drawn out, as grim as grim can be. The months since have been better, but not much. Until now. What a journey it’s been. 

 

Emotional journey 

 

First and foremostly, our thoughts remain with those who have died, with their loved ones who mourn them. I think a huge part of this deeply emotional journey is the ‘delayed grief’. It is always sad when people die. It is sad for those who are bereaved. But death during Covid-19 has been particularly harrowing, with families unable to say goodbye in the traditional way. This is a tragedy all of itself. For some, the grieving is still to come. 

  It is really important that we continue to acknowledge frontline workers. Of course this begins with health workers. Not only have they put themselves at risk, they have done so while saving lives. They’ve been heroic. But it’s important too that we hail other frontline workers…(like Gardaí, carers, etc.). Think too of the people who work in our supermarkets and in other essential services. These people have been dealing with the public for those fourteen months, often with little thanks, very occasionally with some abuse thrown in, always with an element of risk to their own health. They too have been heroic. 

  I can’t speak (yet) for the elderly generation, but my heart has gone out to them. Obviously the Covid experience has been different for different people, but suffice to say it’s been an awful journey for many older citizens. I feel sorry for elderly people who were cocooned…denied access to family…robbed of the simple pleasure of a visit to cafes, hotels, bars, bingo, sport. I feel sorry for elderly men and women who used to play golf before it too fell victim to the new normal. It’s back now, but should never have been banned. I don’t know how great the absence of Mass in its traditional form has been for many of these people, but I fear it has been seismic. 

  As the months passed, my sympathy for young people grew. I’m more empathetic now. It’s obvious, as this merciless saga drags on, that it has been extremely difficult for younger people (and probably for all age groups). 

  From small children who’ve had key parts of their formative years upset, to College students losing out on structured learning and necessary social interaction, this has been a disaster. 

  Perhaps the abiding image of Covid has been the anguish inflicted on nursing home patients and on elderly people in their own homes. A ‘Connecting though windows’ philosophy prevailed…the gloomy tagline of an historic pandemic. 

  The impact on sport added to the gloom. We might give out about some pampered millionaires in the world of sport, but we love the entertainment and drama they provide. Much of this sport was disrupted by Covid. The GAA, which is great sport without the millionaires, was paused, then modified. We’re grateful there was some GAA, but we’ve missed the noise that was the backdrop to the games and occasions we are used to enjoying each year.    

  Many people lost their jobs or were put on reduced hours. There will be a mental health fall-out from this and other impacts of the pandemic. 

  Businesses have been destroyed. Carnage. I’m certain that the small business community will suffer permanent damage. Some companies will roar back and prosper. Many more will fold. Some will hang on, their long-term future uncertain. I compare Covid to a tsunami or earthquake; there is immediate devastation…but when it’s over, and we get to survey the wreckage, that too will be devastating. Then, and only then, will the full extent of the rebuilding challenge be evident. It won’t be a pretty sight. 

  

Learning lessons

 

It’s been a time for reflection too, for gaining a very sobering and welcome appreciation of what matters. Truth is, we’ve learnt a lot during the Covid era. Appreciate nature. Slow down. Get the work-life balance right. Appreciate family more. Enjoy – and appreciate – life. 

  We’ve been in a jungle. We sense that there’s a clearing ahead. Somewhere beyond that, open ground and the familiar terrain of the past we knew. When we find it, let’s be humble, grateful, appreciative. Let’s cherish rediscovering what we once took for granted. Covid’s been tough, still is. Let’s learn by studying its imprint. There will be an opportunity now to slow down, to savour life, to appreciate what’s important. 

 

Seeing the light?

 

On Friday, Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced details of the relaxing of restrictions. The sense is that May and June – starting next week –

will bring release, joy, hope. We are seeing the light. 

  The last fourteen months have been horrendous. This has been very stressful for many people, for families. But with the vaccine roll-out progressing, and restrictions being eased, it feels like life is getting better.  

  On Saturday, driving our son to GAA training – such a welcome return – I heard that show which features some of the week’s radio highlights. 

  A clinical pyschologist (chatting to Brendan O’Connor) spoke of the social anxiety many will feel as the country reopens. 

  He advised people to be empathetic and kind – to others, and to ourselves. We need to take things slowly, to spot warning signs, to take a deep breath. There are three words we should go by, he said: “Recognise, release, re-engage”. 

  With those wise words in my ears, I dropped our son off and watched him join his friends in football practice on lush grass on a bright and hopeful first morning of May.