There’s something of the spirit of ‘meitheal’ in the air right now.
The old Irish tradition is finding modern expression as people try to work together for the common good, writes Clodagh Finn
I’ll miss the quiet, the glorious quiet. Right now, all I can hear is the distant bark of a dog and the gentle hum of an ageing laptop.
How will we ever return to the clatter and bang of normal living?
The optimists say we are on the cusp of ushering in a new age but, look around you, it is already here.
If the radical changes of the last two months have shown us anything, it is that there are many things about lockdown worth keeping.
Here are my top ten:
Altruism: Not only has it become an everyday word, it is an everyday occurrence too. This pandemic has been characterised by millions of small (and very large) acts of kindness .
It can be the simplest thing, such as coming across painted stones inscribed with the words: “We shall overcome”. Or a coordinated effort such as Meitheal na mBan, the concert due to air on Wednesday on TG4 YouTube which will bring together some of Ireland’s top female artists performing from their own homes to raise funds for the victims of domestic violence.
In fact, there’s something of the spirit of ‘meitheal’ in the air right now.
The old Irish tradition where neighbours gathered to save each other’s hay is finding modern expression as people genuinely try to work together for the common good.
Community: We can actually see what it is to live in a community. For now, the evidence is anecdotal but I’d love to see the results of a survey asking Irish people how many neighbours they spoke to for the first time during lockdown?
There’s been dancing on the streets, neighbourhood cinema, birthday parties, fund-raisers and all kinds of (socially distanced) celebrations in between.
Why stop when lockdown lifts?
Creativity: A little bit like altruism and empathy, that fluffy and under-rated thing called creativity is proving that it can make a real difference in people’s lives.
We’ve seen originality break out in all kinds of places, from the business owners imaginatively reinventing themselves to keep life and limb together to the myriad ways people are trying to home-school children and work or home-school children and not work.
Learning to make sourdough bread is the very least of it. People have shown extraordinary imagination in getting through the challenges of each day in these extraordinary times.
Deliveries: I had planned to start the day with a green juice, but a box of doughnuts arrived at the door just in time for breakfast. I know, an impossible conundrum.
The box of treats had a dual purpose: it was a sweet and thoughtful gift, but also an attempt by the giver to support the doughnut-makers.
Many of us have been doing the same and getting all sorts of things – farm produce, artisanal treats, books, newspapers – home-delivered.
There’s a blast of nostalgia about it all; remember the days when you had to rescue the bottled milk from the doorstep before the birds pecked through the foil tops to get the cream.
But this new reliance on local suppliers also shows how we can shorten the supply chain and help create a more sustainable world in the process.
Health: They said it could never happen but we suddenly have a one-tier health system based on need rather than ability to pay. There is nothing like a landscape-changing calamity to bring about change.
Yes, there is the crippling cost of it and the question of how we might fund a national health service when we are facing into a massive economic depression.
It’s worth remembering, though, that the UK’s National Health Service came into being in 1946, just after the devastation of the Second World War.
It’s time to be bold and pioneering.
Home Haircuts: Yes, that is said with a certain degree of irony but amazing things can happen when you take out the good scissors and have a go.
For one thing, it’s great fun. And it shows admirable pluck, not to mention confidence in a partner or household member. It also shows the power of improvisation.
You might just be pleasantly surprised by the results too. In this household, everyone is still talking and nobody needs a hat.
Reform: True, we are lost somewhere between rose-tinted nostalgia and wishful thinking when it comes to re-imagining the shape of the world, post-Covid-19. But let’s dream on because does anybody really want to return to the way things were?
It’s also true to say that change is not only possible, but necessary. To take one small example, College Green in Dublin will be pedestrianised and car numbers reduced as part of a plan to reopen the city centre as lockdown eases.
The challenges are immense. In the months ahead, we’ll have to cope with a pandemic, a climate crisis and an economic downturn.
What’s been uplifting about lockdown, though, is a new and more insistent willingness to question, to challenge and to try to re-draw the world.
Honesty: ‘How are you?’ has become a proper question, as a dear friend of mine observed this week. And she is right. People really want to know how you are coping.
It’s perfectly ok to say that you are not, or that all your survival tricks were used up by 11am.
It’s been a time of rollercoasting emotions and it’s ok to say so.
Nature: As everything else gets quieter, the natural world has been getting louder. We can now actually see and hear it.
A fox on Grafton Street, reports of blue skies replacing smog, clear waters in Venice.
I don’t believe the line that nature is teaching us a lesson by sending us to our collective rooms, but how wonderful to be talking about birdsong and the joy of planting seeds.
Zoom meetings: The virtual workplace is not for everyone, but for me it’s a godsend.
Not only is it possible to curate your own meeting room, no one need ever be respectable from the neck down again.