[Return to related issue of Nonviolence News]
Billy King shares his monthly thoughts.
Hello again, in these strange times. But spring gathers pace here in the northern hemisphere. Personally I regret the fading of the daffodils as time moves on to other flowers; I consider them the first significant flower of spring (snowdrops and crocuses - which I love - I consider more as harbingers). It is a strange juxtaposition of times; spring, a time of new life, and coronavirus, the threat of death, however close or distant we might consider that possibility. Not being overwhelmed by an issue like this is a difficult balancing act.
There is an English origin expression “to send someone to Coventry” which means to ostracise them, not talk to them or have anything to do with them. Well, “being sent to Covid-19” is not the same insofar as friends, family and neighbours will all still try to stay in touch but it does mean physical isolation of 2 metres or more away from others, except for any immediate members of the family living with you who are not possible carriers of the virus, or particularly at risk.
Fifty-one challenges during lockdown
We all need challenges, and no better time than when most of us are, for the good of all, At Home, or, if we are essential workers, Not Going Out When Not Working. These are some suggestions, some are my personal challenges, and obviously what is appropriate for you may be entirely different. The degree of ‘challenge’ obviously varies; some things are really easy, some abominably hard, and what is easy for me may be hard for you, and vice versa. I think having a general routine of sorts is good – but one which you can drop and change if the sun comes out, or a chance comes for a long chat with a friend or loved one, whatever.
1. Have a routine which includes mental workouts or challenges to the brain.
2. Set a learning challenge, about a particular interest, something you never understood, or an aspect of peace and nonviolence, history, science or cosmology.
3. Think about the relationship between gender, violence and peace.
4. Think about the relationship between class, violence and peace.
5. Think about the relationship between culture, violence and peace.
6. Check out the material on nonviolence on the INNATE website
7. Consider what learning we should take from the current pandemic.
8. Consider how we can make our lives greener/more ecological.
9. Have a routine which includes adequate physical exercise or workouts,
10. Get out of your routine whenever you feel like it, not to ignore it but to be free.
11. Still have a ‘weekend’ which has a different, possibly more relaxed, schedule.
12. If possible, try out sitting in different parts of your dwelling (or garden if you have one) when you want to read, think or doze.
13. Read some of those books that have been sitting on your shelves or in a pile in the corner.
14. Read James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ or another long and possibly ‘difficult’ book.
15. Find out what your library has online in the way of books and other publications.
16. Learn a new skill or hobby - or rediscover an old one which may be easier because you may already have what you need to do it.
17. Grow or do something(s) different in your garden, back yard or window-box.
18. Notice nature.
19. Learn to identify all the birds in your location.
20. And even more of a challenge – learn to identify birds from their song.
21. Learn the names of plants and flowers in your vicinity.
22. Learn to identify all the trees in you location or nearby parks and public areas.
23. Look at the insects around your dwelling.
24. Take care to have time to laugh and have fun, if you can.
25. Sort out your photo collection – prints and/or digital. Or your memorabilia if you don’t have many photos.
26. Talk to those friends you haven’t got around to talking to for yonks.
27. Send a greeting card to friends and loved ones.
28. Make the cards yourself first.
29. Support potentially vulnerable neighbours and acquaintances through chatting, shopping or however...or do whatever else positive for society and individuals you can in the current situation.
30. On yer bike if you have one and it is working and safe to use (working brakes are not an optional extra....) and coronavirus permits you to cycle - or do laps.
31. If there are others in your household, talk about things you never talk about.....if stuck, ask them.
32. Plan your TV and online consumption rather than being a passive consumer.
33 Listen to your favourite music.
34. Listen to some different music to normal, whatever your normal is.
35. Write a letter to a newspaper or make you feelings known to the media on an issue of importance to you.
36. Dig out that old pot of paint and touch up or repaint where you can around your place.
37. Sort out those drawers....
38. And you can sort out your electronic ‘drawers’ in terms of the files on your laptop or PC.
39. Look back on your life, whatever stage you are at, and think what you want to change.
40. As part of this, do a personal time line (what you were doing at particular times with all different kinds of involvements and interest, and include overlapping).
41. Take a break or regular breaks from news consumption – perpetual coronavirus news can wear you down.
42. Plan what you want to do different to before(and how you’ll do it) when things start to return to more normal life.
43. Make space to daydream, meditate, or pray if you are that kind of religious (I am not equating these three things).
44. Learn to cook something new – it can be simple.
45. If you don’t already do it, batch cook and keep the rest for later in the week or freeze it. This not only gives you more time, it makes you feel more relaxed knowing the dinner or half the dinner is already there...
46. Experiment with different non-alcoholic drinks and cocktails.
47. Rediscover card games and board games.
48. Make your own list and tick things off that you start doing.
49. Do the things you have put off for ever.
50. Take time to relax.
(Different) Scary bits about Covid-19
No, this is not about ‘what might happen if’ you get Covid-19 but some scary information about ‘our’ role in its creation. Yes, Covid-19 may have originated in a ‘wet market’ in Wuhan with the virus passing from bats through pangolins to humans. But there are more general ways in which humanity’s encroachment on, and abuse of, nature may have helped such viruses take off in humans – and risk more disasters. Factory farming is largely a Western creation too, and the resultant chemical and biological fixes, including antibiotics, is a sorrowful tale of stupidity and human greed. Just look at a couple of articles in the Guardian to learn more www.theguardian.com and here.
Being woke on the wake
You might think that consideration of death here is occasioned by Covid-19. Not at all so. It was occasioned by going to a presentation of The Wonders of the Wake at the Lyric, Belfast, with Kevin Toolis, Niamh Parsons and the Henry Girls (actually McLaughlin sisters but named after their granda). It was one of the last shows before meeting restrictions came into place. I don’t think that being more in the presence of the threat of death, during the coronavirus pandemic, is a reason not to write and think about this.
By the way, it was, is, an excellent show and worth attending when and if circumstances permit; poetry, song and prose from Irish and other traditions, a certain amount original – and in the case of the Belfast show, keening from the Féile Women’s Choir. Kevin Toolis has the right mixture of wit, charm and gravitas, Niamh Parsons can still do the business, and the Henry Girls are wonderfully talented and versatile.
The Irish Catholic way of dealing with death can be the best. The death is acknowledged in meaningful ways, and the sight in the countryside of signs indicating ‘Wake house’ - and possibly even traffic and parking directions – is common. Wakes are generally not morbid affairs but a celebration of the life of the deceased (although there would be a differentiation between ‘good’ deaths of someone at the end of a long life, and ‘sad’ deaths of someone dying earlier and/or in tragic circumstances).
This is all dealt with in Kevin Toolis’ well known book “My father’s wake – How the Irish teach us to live, love and die” (2017). He covers his own brush with death as a youngster, his own family history and father’s death, along with more general reflections on dying and the way others deal with death, in the context of life and celebrating life, as well as preparing for death. And “If we can recognise each other as in some way equal at the grave, perhaps we can then, too, in other places, also see each other as the same creatures who have wants and needs and desires like our own.” (page 52 of Kevin Toolis’ book).
A wake gives friends and acquaintances a way of expressing condolences to the dead person’s loved ones in a less rushed and more meaningful way than at a funeral. For the immediate family and loved ones it is a much more intimate occasion. There may be prayers and the rosary, stories may be shared and even the dead person’s favourite songs. The body may be kept company all the time while laid out at home; this can be seen as necessary because of religious belief or as superstition but can also be a mark of respect. The world and her husband come to pay their respects and then to the funeral.
There is no easy way to grieve the loss of a loved one. But the process which may be engaged in through the Irish/Catholic tradition gives a certain amount of support to the bereaved and undoubtedly helps. It also gives those who will miss the person concerned a welcome opportunity to say goodbye (otherwise ‘we’ can feel cheated), and reinforces community and community feeling. There is a contrast here with the ‘Protestant’ way of death (and I speak as a Prod) which is usually much more reserved and private and sometimes seems like a lack of acknowledgement of the fact of death, a denial that it has actually taken place, or as if it was an inconvenient event interfering with normal life. In the current restrictions imposed by coronavirus, waking may be impossible and lining the roads as a hearse passes by for burial is perhaps the only possible substitute but a very poor one.
It would seem the term ‘wake’ originates from staying awake for a prayer vigil. The Merriam-Webster definition online indicates the use of the term in this sense is obsolete – not in Ireland it’s not. Meanwhile ‘woke’ comes from black US American slang for being aware, awake, to issues of concern....and through this origin it is also used, less commonly, currently by right wingers as a term of abuse for liberals and radicals taking up ‘unnecessary’ issues from a standpoint that they try to ridicule.
We all want to live a long and healthy life. But without death there is no life which is why I find cryogenic freezing of bodies and the search for human next-to-eternal life pretty ridiculous; do we want it to be Standing Room Only on earth? And what quality of life would we have as we get older and older? There are enough of us old fogies around without taking it to ridiculous lengths. Let us celebrate life – and our loved ones in life and in death. But, as in the words of a song by Tommy Sands, when the doctor tells you your time is o’er, our response is still “All I want is a little bit more”...
I don’t know about April Fool but I certainly like Gooseberry Fool. It is quite some time ago and I only mention it because this issue of Nonviolent News is expected to be released into the stratosphere on 1st April. Quite some time ago I issued a press release for 1st April that year which only received the attention of a small community radio station in Belfast but better half a dozen listeners than none at all. Anyway, it concerned a major academic and collaborative study which had been undertaken by the universities in Norn Iron into connections between Catholics and Protestants there; the study was an in depth one which engaged a whole variety of disciplines, so numerous that I forget what they were, but this was a thorough, in depth exploration of relationships between the two tribes.
The punchline came with the conclusion of the study, which had been undertaken in relative secrecy because of the sensitivities involved. And what was this conclusion? That the two groups were actually much more closely related than anyone had understood because they were both members of Homo Sapiens...
Well, that is me for now. I wish you good health and enough wealth to survive and cocoon in comfort. Take care of yourself and each other, and I will see you again soon, virtually speaking, Billy.
Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman
pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little
about horses even if someone with a similar name is
found astride them on gable ends around certain parts
of Norn Iron).