All are welcome; but some are more welcome than others

There are a lot of different churches out there, with different theologies, priorities and prejudices. One thing that has united every one I’ve ever been a part of, though, has been the desire to see more people walking through their doors. For some it’s all about new faces and new salvation; for others it’s about a long-overdue return to the congregations of the golden years of yore; for still others it’s about getting back those faces that were once familiar but, we fear, are now drifting away into the enticing vacuum of all the other opportunities available to modern families on the average Sunday morning. I have participated in special welcome events, seen advertising online and on billboards, been ushered in by the promise of coffee and doughnuts and ignored other than a silent nod in the general direction of a tattered service sheet or a photocopied explanatory leaflet. What I haven’t seen, in any of these churches, is the Perfect Welcome. I think it probably doesn’t exist. But, as British Quakers walk cheerfully into Quaker Week 2022, culminating in World Quaker Day, I want to think more about some elements of what genuine welcome feels like to me.*

1. There is no golden key. Welcome will not look the same to everyone. We talk about welcoming young families, as though all young families are alike – but of course we know that isn’t the case, any more than all black people, or all women, or all people who wear hearing aids are alike. We have some experiences, some needs, some prejudices in common, but you cannot say that if you have successfully welcomed one family into your community you just need to do the same thing again and it will work for everyone. If only.

2. Let your yay be yay. If you say you welcome people, you really have to welcome them. All of them. Sometimes the person who walks in will be fashionable, friendly, funny, and a ready-made Godsend for every committee you need to liven up. More often, they might be grumpy and listless, or tricky and uncomfortable, or noisy, rude, a bit smelly… The list goes on. As I write this I can picture someone ticking every one of these slightly jarring boxes. As I write this I am aware I tick some of them myself. Do people’s hearts sink when I walk in the room? Do they also think that they wanted new people, but not new people quite like this?

3. Having children’s meeting is great, but it isn’t everything. I am in awe of people who run Sunday Schools, Messy Church, Children’s Meeting, or whatever the child-focused activities are called where you worship. Making the complex both comprehensible and fun is a gift that should never be taken for granted and takes huge amounts of both energy and precision. But having a children’s meeting is not the same thing as welcoming children. Having a children’s community, where they know this building and these people are as much theirs to enjoy as they are everyone else’s, is better. Being flexible and adapting to the children you have is vital. Are some too old for children’s activities, but not yet able to participate in “adult worship”? How can you continue to stretch and sustain them? Are some younger and more wriggly than you think they should be when they’re ready to join the stillness of the adults? Is that something you can accommodate too? Think as well about what you will do with those children and their carers when the children’s group finishes. Will dad be on his own, ignored over coffee because everyone else is chatting inside and doesn’t want to be where the kids are letting off steam in the garden? Will the children be let out before notices so mum never hears other ways to join in the community? Will there be so many disapproving looks and comments about noise and the number of biscuits kids can put away that granny leaves straight away instead of waiting to speak to friends if she has little ones with her? If this is your only experience, if the way you join the community is always as an Adult With Children, I’m afraid it gets pretty wearing pretty quickly.

4. Ask questions. If you don’t know how to involve me, then ask. If you want my kids to feel at home, ask them (not me) what they need. If you want me to come back, ask. Ask what I can give. Don’t assume you are putting too much on me because of the age of my children; but don’t assume you’re not either. I may be missing worship because I am overwhelmed; because other activities with my children clash this week; because actually I just don’t fancy it today. The temptation is to guess which it is and act accordingly, because that’s what it was last week and so that is what it must always be. But we are all different, with different experiences and wants and needs and gifts, and different pressures at different times of our lives, or our days, or our months. Only when we are all welcomed and included and celebrated and listened to equally will we all genuinely be part of this wondrous community of God.

5. Be proud of your treasures, and willing to share them. Confession time: I hate bringing friends to Quaker meetings for the first time. I mean, I struggle with bringing them to The Vicar’s church – what if they ask me why things happen and I don’t know the answer? What if they judge the liturgy or the vestments? What if they hate the music? – but I really, really struggle with introducing people to Quakers. I sit on the edge of my seat, unable to centre down, unable to worship or to pray myself. Someone stands to minister and my heart sinks, because it’s the someone who always says things that then need interpreting to make them less offensive, or the one who always comments on how nice it is to see young people (read: people under 50), or the one who says what a joy it is to have new people there because they may delay the inevitable demise of the Society of Friends. Welcome, and no pressure…

I don’t like bringing new people to Quaker meeting because, although this community means the world to me a lot of the time, I still find it hard to believe that others, without my emotional baggage, would value its treasures. I find it hard to trust that they will see what I see. And that lack of trust makes it less likely, not more likely, that they will find what I am unconsciously hiding.

How can I overcome this reluctance? I don’t have ready answers, or I’d be doing them already. But I can make some guesses. Every Meeting is different, just as every Friend attending is different. And we cannot share what we cannot see and celebrate for what it is. It’s time to put down those apologies and uncertainties. Time to put down the lines about “sorry there aren’t more people here this week”. Time to stop explaining how we only have children’s meeting once a fortnight with an apology and a shrug. What we do have is amazing, and it’s filled with hope. We love it enough to keep coming back, week after week, through the dark times and the stress and the shared lunches and the giggles and the committee meetings and the cleaning the toilets and the worship that reveals the depth of our humanity and the height of our potential. What we have deserves to be shared with pride and joy and maybe [whispers, backed by dramatic music building to a crescendo] maybe, just a little enthusiasm.

But what if they do like it? What if they really like it, and they join in and everything, but they don’t really get it? What if they’re not quite like us and they bring something entirely new and it changes everything? What if we have to change with them? What do we do then? It can be really hard making reasonable adjustments: changing meetings to online to account for someone’s low energy levels; starting them at 8pm to allow for another having to juggle bedtimes as a single parent; always having to plan a long way in advance to allow things to be translated, or very quickly to fit in with changing shift work patterns; explaining the details of what’s going on, every time, rather than relying on the assumption that we all know the backstory because we’ve all been here forever and done all this before. It’s hard. But do you know what’s worse? Not making those adjustments. Sitting in a bubble where everything stays the same and wondering why nothing is growing around us. Sticking to the comfortable and living with yourself, knowing who you drove away. Knowing that if you don’t make those changes and willingly adapt your treasures as new people share them you are really not welcoming them at all. Because real welcome is something that takes all of us, with all of our hearts open; it cannot just be pretty words.

*One thing I have to fight against, writing this, is the same thing I have to fight against whenever I write about Quakers: defining things by what we don’t do, or don’t say, or how I don’t want to be welcomed. (Here’s a more positive view of why I’m a Quaker.) It’s hard, nailing down the positives in a situation you usually only notice when it goes wrong.


You may turn over your papers, and begin.

I’m writing this post whilst invigilating a GCSE Maths exam* and, like most of the people in the room with me, wondering how in the world I ended up here.

First, let me set the scene, for those of you who enjoy a good horror story. My morning starts as well as Friday mornings ever do, though a series of personal, structural and Palaeontologist-related chaoses soon knock me off schedule. Setting up the exam room is so stressful that my Fitbit thinks I’ve done 20 minutes running on the spot, when I’ve actually just been working through what I should and shouldn’t display on the walls, the door, the desks. Still, at least that makes up for the following hour and a half, when I can do nothing but walk up and down the very short lines between very bored students. The kids themselves (and they are all kids in my room) fit every cliché in the book. We have the rebel, with spiky hair and a dragon ring. We have the one who showed up without a pen, and the two who showed up to the wrong room. We have the boy with Hugh Grant-esque floppy hair (when did that become a thing again?!) and the girl with a crop top and nails that will make the calculator paper a challenge, to say the least. There is a lad at the back (impressive, given they have no choice where they sit) who puts his hood up in the first 15 minutes and comes pretty close to falling asleep, and a guy in one corner who is enjoying the paper so much that he spends a good chunk of time picking blue tack off the walls. And, of course, there is me, whose whole outfit is based solely around shoes that don’t clomp and earrings that don’t jangle.

Back to my question: why am I here? One answer to that is perfectly literal. I’m here because six years of working in education have still not trained me out of volunteering to help when I know help is needed, and so I offered to step in when we simply did not have enough bodies to put in rooms to make sure the exams happened as they needed to. That answer needs more detail, though, as it is not a situation unique to us; you could say I am here because of decisions made by a variety of government departments, who have orchestrated years of ongoing cuts to Further Education, allowed trained invigilators to find other things to do during two years with no formal GCSE exams, and failed to alleviate an ongoing crisis in teenage (and adult) mental health. Students of all ages are more likely to need separate rooms, more likely to go into crisis on the morning of the exams, more likely to drop out altogether under the pressure they are currently under than ever before, which has forced schools and colleges across the country to rope in teaching staff to ensure the exams can still take place.

But why am I here is bigger even than that. The real reason I am here is because of the need to ensure that everyone going through education in this country, at some point in their lives, squeezes through this one narrow gateway. The expectation, of course, is that you go through this gate when it does not feel so much like a prison; it’s just one more exam in a month of pressure, nothing to see here, carry on through. And those who pass through comfortably, who achieve that magical 4 and move on, are then able to progress with the rest of their lives with no idea what horrors they have escaped. But what of the rest of them? What of the hundreds of kids in every town across the country who do not pass their Maths and English first time round?

Teal background with a tree trunk from top to bottom, and a fish in one corner. On the trunk are the words: "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."
A wonderfully famous quote, proverbially from Einstein: Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

Don’t get me wrong: I am passionate about levelling up and ensuring that everyone has the skills to do a job they love. If I had a slightly less laissez-faire attitude towards my hair becoming as grey as the clouds over me as I write this, I’m sure I would be very concerned if my stylist did not understand ratios and the passage of hours. If a care assistant is visiting a friend, I would want them to be able to both read and understand the instructions left for them, and to adapt those instructions if needed for the person stepping into their place next. The construction workers building new homes on the corner really need to understand volume, area and converting measurements. I teach all these things in my classroom, and I will sermonise until the cows come home about why everyone, everyone, in this country deserves access to free Maths and English classes to ensure that they can develop these skills if they do not yet have them, whatever current government guidelines on residency may want you to believe.

But GCSE Maths is not the only way to measure how confidently someone can use numbers; and GCSE English is not the only way to judge reading. They are not the only ways to do this; they are just the easiest. Exams feel impartial; and we have all been conditioned to believe that partiality is bad. The Right might argue that exams are necessary because teachers cannot be trusted not to inflate their students’ grades; because exams were what they had In My Day and it never harmed anyone then; to make life skills commodities that can be weighed and measured and found wanting. The Left might feel that exams are necessary because they are anonymous, and so they cannot be subject to unconscious bias (as though anyone who has worked in adult education for longer than 6 months can’t immediately tell which land mass a student grew up on based solely on the style of their handwriting). Whichever side you argue from, you arrive at the point that exams are the only way to ensure that education is fair and we are all playing by, and judged by, the same rules.

This point, though, says that knowledge is worth something only if it is judged; that skills are worthy only if they meet assessable criteria. This is the same system that says that the worth of a person is the same as the salary they earn; that those who do not work for money do not work at all; that if we are not always consuming, and growing, and progressing, and doing more and more, and using more and more; if we are not doing these things, then we are failing.

What am I doing here? What are we all doing here? How have we ended up allowing ourselves to be locked into boxes that limit our potential and our creativity and our ability to be ourselves, and added insult to injury by insisting this is the only way to be fair?

A white page with a pencil and a pen. On the page is written "Am I good enough?"
Picture credit: Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

*By which I mean that I am composing this in my head whilst invigilating a Maths exam, of course. Whilst actually in the room, the rules are very clear: you are allowed to walk up and down and look over the shoulders and into the palms of each student to ensure that they have not unconsciously got their phone out mid-exam; you can breathe if you must, whilst making every effort to hold in the sighs if you see a wrong answer on the page in front of you; but you can do nothing, absolutely nothing, to distract yourself from Your Purpose during the exam itself. In my case, I couldn’t even stare out of the window (and neither could the candidates). There wasn’t one. Now that is forward planning on the part of the building designers, don’t you think?

I Am The Imposter; Sorry, Cowgirl!

We had an emergency trip to the opticians last week, necessitated by The Cowgirl’s glasses ending up, entirely inexplicably, in two very separate pieces. (Apparently, someone may have trodden on them, and maybe that someone was her, but actually maybe, no, they didn’t. Well covered, darling, well covered.) Other families of glasses-wearing geeks will be all too familiar with the entertainment that ensued. The check-up itself took about 10 minutes, but the combination of taking pictures of eyes, squirming in the middle so having to retake pictures of eyes, choosing frames, checking frames, spelling names wrong and having to start the whole process again, meant that we were actually in the opticians for over an hour, and my masterly plan of treating us all to indulgently warming refreshments between wrapping up the appointment and arriving in a calm, relaxed manner at our weekly swimming lesson were quickly demonstrated to be utterly foolish: we actually screamed into the swimming pool a mere 5 minutes late.

Somewhere in the midst of this, as is normal at such things, I was asked to sign for the NHS voucher that entitles all children under 16 to free eye tests and mostly-free glasses (#ThankYouNHS). And exactly there in the midst of this, I had the same reaction I always do when an adult calls me “mum”. I looked over my shoulder for the person they were really talking to; I hesitated, to give them enough time to call me out; I signed the iPad with a shaking hand and a rote comment about modern technology they must hear 50 times a day, but were still sweet enough to smile at.

I have spent most of my mothering years looking over my shoulder and expecting someone to out me as just pretending to be able, or willing, or responsible enough for this role. I thought that feeling would pass; it didn’t. At first I thought they might say that I wasn’t old enough to be a mother (ironic really when you consider that I had my first child in the UK’s Teenage Pregnancy capital, and that I probably had 10 years on the next oldest person in the ward where I spent my first night with The Palaeontologist). I don’t think that now – a decade of building up grey hairs and sleepless nights has put paid to that – but I still look over my shoulder, waiting for the other shoe to drop and for anyone – for everyone – to realise that I have no idea what I’m doing here.

Despite having had so long to think about this, it took me until this week and an opticians appointment to put the name Imposters Syndrome to my parenting experience. But through that lens (in a totally undiagnosed fashion) it all makes much more sense. Do I feel like a fraud? Like I have to work 3 times as hard to justify the title I have been given? Like any moment someone will see through the mask and spot I don’t belong there? Like I do not deserve this relationship? All of the above. All of the time. I know it isn’t rational; that I have been there from the beginning and in every moment since, there in the decision-making and the praying and the worrying even when it is not me there in the day to day. I know that there is no-one else my children would want to be there even when they tell me that I’m spoiling their lives and I’m the worst mum ever, as much as when they run to me when I walk in from work and hug me till my ribs hurt after an argument. I know that this is the place I am meant to be and the place I am called to be and the place I want to be. But that still doesn’t stop me feeling like an imposter, like I’m outside looking in and like sometime soon, when I’m least expecting it, everyone else will feel that too.

When The Cowgirl plays Among Us, she always wants to be The Imposter. I once asked her why she would want to be the baddy, the one who everyone else wants to kick into the outer reaches of space and never be contaminated by again? Because, she explained, The Imposter is the one who has the most fun. They can do what they want, and go where they want, and if they manage to kill everyone, they get to win the game. Being on the outside is the thing that gives you control, because it means that you’re not governed by the rules that everyone else has to play by.

Among Us. A bizarre and probably totally inappropriate game for children to be playing, full of challenges and spaceships and stabbing people in the back. Fun, though.

I will probably never feel entirely comfortable in my own skin or in the rules that are set down, in my head or others’ expectations, for people who are Mothers, or who are Vicar’s Wives, or who are struggling to live simply and sustainably in the 21st Century western world, for that matter. But however I feel about those titles, all of those aspects of my life and personality are ones that I have made a conscious choice to add in to the jigsaw that makes me the problematic, overstretched and overworked person that I am. And all of those roles help me see, from the inside out, how life could be better if fewer of us followed all the rules; if we were the rebels, who went through secret passages and found our own ways to success (but who maybe didn’t have the goal of killing everyone else around us. Any metaphor can be stretched too far). They show me what fun can be had by not focussing so much on how others may or may not think about me but accepting my view of myself instead; the good and the bad of it. They remind me that this is my choice and I have earned the right to make that choice, and have the responsibility to live by it. They whisper that I have been doing this for some time now and haven’t killed anyone yet, despite a fair bit of provocation. They demonstrate that, Imposter-ish feeling or not, I’m actually doing all right. And it turns out, that’s a pretty darn good thing to realise.


A few days ago, I was enjoying a quiet natter with my Long-suffering Mother whilst enjoying a nice cup of tea. (I say a quiet natter; she may think it was A Bit of a Rant, but of course, I couldn’t possibly comment.) The subject of the moment was Quakers, and specifically, holding one of the Big Roles within a Quaker Meeting.* As we were talking, I recounted a repeating theme I have heard recently, particularly about Trustees and Trusteeship: “I couldn’t do that if I was working”; “this is a job for someone with more time.” When did these roles become such all-consuming monsters? And how are we ever going to manage to realise our beautifully-expressed vision of genuine inclusivity if we believe that most of our work can only be done by those who are willing and able to cast aside all other interests in their lives to make Quakerism the only thing of significance? (If you want to read more about this vision, incidentally, start with our most recent Epistle. It’s epic.) Do They not realise how outlandishly privileged you have to be to be able to enter the ranks of the Actively Retired? No grandkids – or if you have them, also kids who are well off enough to be able to afford childcare; a job that allowed you enough money to retire before your body forced you into it; good health and good education and a stable living environment – and that’s before you get into the requirements of having a decent computer with a good internet connection and not being afraid to use it…

As I was ranting talking, I made an offhand comment; one I have made many times before. “If I can be Clerk to Trustees whilst also having a pretty intensive job and two small children, it can’t be that bad!” Interrupting my Mother’s likely responses about gluttony in the punishment arena and my deep-seated inability to say no, The Palaeontologist piped up and shut down the conversation with: “I am not a small child.” And she’s absolutely right. She’s not. She’s bloody-minded, bloody irritating, and bloody marvellous, switching between modes in the blink of an eye and a flick of her increasingly expressive eyebrows. I sneezed, sometime in the last couple of years, and totally missed her transition into something that is no longer Small; though certainly not as grown up as she would like either. Some of her changes are heart-rending: my words can no longer fix the problems of the world, and she now realises what I have long suspected: that if I ever had the answers, I don’t any more. Some of her changes are amazing: only someone else who grew up with more books than friends will appreciate the unrivalled bliss of sharing opinions on childhood favourites with an avid reader who is enjoying them for the first time.

It’s not just her that’s changing; I am too. I caught myself thinking “Are they still worrying about that? Goodness, it was a problem even in my day!” About girls’ clothing. About how difficult it is to buy clothing for 4 year old girls that doesn’t look like and feel and fit like it was made for teenagers. As though it has been decades since I bought a pair of boys’ jeans from the local charity shop and cut them down to make shorts because the shops had nothing but hot pants, rather than it just being 5 years ago. As though it has been decades since I had any say at all in what The Palaeontologist chooses to wear. Even in my head, I am no longer that parent of young children. I am already the parent of people starting to tread their own uncertain way outwards into the world, no longer looking to me for support, love and nourishment; though still running back when they need reassurance after all, thank God. I’m no longer that parent of young children; it just took one of those not-so-young-anymore children pointing it out to make me realise it.

Transitioning from one life stage to another is hard. Having Young Children is a handy screen to hide behind, a reason to avoid everything from having regular haircuts to having a social life to having to admit what you can do on your own, what you can no longer do on your own, and what you have no interest in doing on your own. Having Young Children puts you at a certain point in your life and means that you can ignore your own aging as everyone remarks instead on the visible growth of your offshoots; and it means that they are still adorable enough that you can get away without having any of those tough conversations you really don’t want to have, about their choices or your own. Accepting and admitting that you have moved into a new stage – one with far fewer nights feeding on the sofa, fewer cuddles, just as many tears and probably more bruises – means accepting what you have lost, what you want back, what you really hope to gain but might miss altogether. Change is terrifying; a liminal space where things move neither forwards nor backwards, but circle around you in a maelstrom of currents until, all of a sudden, you find yourself standing on a new shore, disoriented and unaware of what point your feet touched solid ground, and still unsure which direction you should take from here. And yet, if you had stopped; if you had fought to go back, or go otherwards, or stay still; if you had stopped, you would have drowned for sure. Change is terrifying; but it is the only choice we have.

*The Big Roles are things like Trustees, Clerks, and Treasurers. Quakers will not be alone in struggling to find volunteers to fill roles within worshipping communities, of course (I sometimes wonder if the struggles of finding Treasurers is really the thing that unites all branches of the Church); but given our lack of paid ministers, and our tradition of holding roles for only a few years before handing them on to someone else within the Meeting, the struggle to find willing victims volunteers is akin to painting the Forth Bridge – never-ending and pretty thankless.

Is it possible to respectfully disagree?

The world is full of people shouting at each other, each utterly convinced that they are right and their opponent is the devil incarnate. It is so tempting to do, isn’t it – to indulge that volcano in your tummy, to not try to understand, to not stretch out your hand and risk it being bitten off, to not have to undo your own prejudices and fears and doubts by holding them up to scrutiny. When that thing that you are speaking about and opening up about is a fundamental part of your identity, it is even harder to allow others in; others who disagree, who cannot see what you are so passionate about; who do not know that when you are asked to justify yourself you do it with a pounding heart and fear in your bones and a dry mouth that will not let you speak. I do not know why, but one of the things I feel that way about is human-driven climate change. It is not something rational, for me; it is as driven by my faith and my heart and my churning stomach as is the belief that every one of us is equally loved and equally precious to God. 

I doubt I’m the only person on this side of the debate who struggles to understand the opposing perspective, even if others are less irrationally emotional about the whole thing. So, I tried to find out what the other side of the debate actually is. Here are five questions, asked of a friend I trust and respect who happens to fundamentally disagree with me. My own responses follow as well.

  1. How would you describe your own view of climate change? 

C: My view is that the climate is almost certainly changing, but that this is probably mostly natural, and that at present we have no way of determining the long-term trend.  We might warm up or we might have another ice age.  We are overdue an ice age, given the general climate trends of the quaternary.  It seems unlikely human activity has no effect, but I don’t think it is likely to be the main controlling factor.

Me: I believe that humanity is causing the climate to change dramatically and dangerously, at an unprecedented rate. Would it have changed anyway, without human intervention? Of course, eventually. The climate is not something that is static; the earth has gone through cycles of dramatic warming and dramatic cooling before. What is different this time is the speed with which we are destroying what the earth has taken millennia to create; the devastation that is likely to ensue; and the overwhelming arrogance of a species that believes itself to be impervious to its actions when that is patently not the case.

2. What are the main things that make you think this way about it? 

C: My family are mostly scientists who are fairly sceptical of it, and a lot of the science doesn’t seem to be really sound: for instance, no-one seems to have come up with conditions that would prove that it isn’t happening.  A lot of the data seems either badly worked out statistics (you have to use a particular non-standard moving average to get the hockey stick graph, for instance), overstretched proxy data (tree rings), changes or recalibrations in the way things are measured, or interpreted in the light of a curious assumption that the climate doesn’t naturally change. 

I’ve done enough geology and palaeontology to be sure that assumption is false – indeed, glaciers have advanced and retreated in historical time – and as it is difficult to tell the difference between overnight and half a million years in a lot of “fossilised” data, we don’t have much idea how quickly some of the changes typically happen.  Moreover, so far, a lot of global warming predications haven’t been fulfilled, and they are having to try to come up with explanations regarding why not.  This doesn’t mean they are necessarily wrong overall, but it does mean they are very far from being able to claim that it is more than a theory.

I don’t believe the majority of scientists agree on human caused climate change, I think that anyone involved who says, “Hang on, might we be wrong about this?” is pushed out of climate science – cannot get grants for research, for example.  This casts doubt on all the normal processes of checking such as peer reviewing.  I would actually be more likely to believe it if they came across as agreeing less, because I would be happier to trust the integrity of the processes involved.

Me: It starts as a family thing for me too. The first time I remember hearing about climate change was when I was back at school, and it was called the greenhouse effect. A biology teacher I loved very much (I sort of had to – he was my dad) told us then to put money on it being a white Christmas in 2010, because by then, the climate would have changed so much that it was pretty much a certainty. 2010 came eventually, even though to the schoolchildren he was speaking to it felt like a lifetime away. In the intervening time, he had died and I had become a mother. And, for the first time in my memory, that Christmas there were inches of snow on the ground.

It isn’t just sentimentality, though. He may have started me down this path but continuing along it was my choice. The majority of the world’s scientists believe that the probability of climate change being a consequence of human action is so high as to be almost certain – the IPCC put the probability at 95%. I am not a scientist; I am a teacher. As such, I would be frustrated if a room full of scientists who had never taught literacy were to come into my classroom and tell me I’m doing it wrong; and I’m not about to do the same thing to them. That is what peer reviews and citations and transparency of funding streams and expected outcomes are for. If, with all those safeguards, a particular community overwhelmingly agrees with each other – quite a feat in any community at all – then I am happy to trust the agreement they have reached.

3. What, if anything, would make you change your mind about it? 

C: The global warming people coming up with conditions that would prove they were wrong, and then finding that what happened were the conditions that proved they were right!  Actually, “proof” in the strict sense is probably not entirely applicable to this type of weather forecasting.  But a combination of taking alternative theories seriously, of having good scientific evidence for the correctness of this theory rather than the others, perhaps combined with odds and ends like being able to predict the weather for next month/year on the same model (!) would convince me that it was more probable than not.  It is difficult to give an exact set of conditions on something like this, because there is no knowing what evidence might turn up or what paradigm shifts might be involved in coming to a better understanding of climactic patterns.

Me: This is a fundamental part of what makes me who I am, and letting that go would be very hard for me; I am honest enough to admit that my emotions, as much as my reason, would have to be involved for me to change my beliefs. If the climate stopped changing whilst human action remained the same, that would probably convince me! Alternatively, if we were to genuinely reform our actions, as a global community; to take responsibility for what we produce and reduce our emissions to actually meet the requirements of the international agreements that have been signed into law; if that was to happen and there was no change to the climate, then again, that would go a long way to changing my mind.

4. What, if any, connection is there between your faith and your view of climate change? 

C: I’m not sure there is one.  My faith dictates a certain relationship to the Creation – that we should aim to be stewards rather than consumers – but that is to do with what is to be done in response to human knowledge of what is happening and what is needed.  It requires me to think about what I am dealing with and how I should rightly deal with it, it doesn’t offer information as to what is happening or detailed commands as to how to engage with it!

Me: This earth that we live on is precious, fragile, and not ours to destroy. Whether we see ourselves as stewards asked to care for creation by God, or use the more bohemian phrase that “we do not own the earth; we borrow it from our children”, in essence we are saying the same thing: that we are tasked with sustaining something now that will in turn sustain others in perpetuity. My faith tells me we are all part of one living, breathing body, stretching into the past and into the future. The threat of climate catastrophe, to me, is a threat to that body; to the chances and choices of many who are alive today, and all who will live in the future.

5. What question should I have asked that I didn’t, because my own bias meant I didn’t think of it? 

C: *Giggle* Probably, “How does your view on global warming affect your view/practice of ecology?”  It means I’m less bothered about CO2 emissions and keener on things like not allowing chemicals to get into the atmosphere that wouldn’t be there at all without human activity (e.g. CFCs). CO2 has always been there, and is an essential part of photosynthesis and therefore of almost all ecosystems (not that we want to suffocate anything – you can have too much of a good thing)!  Chemicals that aren’t usually there are a totally different matter.  I’m also more concerned about a range of things like preserving habitats and species, and sustainable practices, for a range of different practical reasons, rather than having a single focus on one issue.  Of course, the reason I think it matters does come back to the fact that my Christian beliefs give us a duty of stewardship and not possession.

Me: My view of ecology is informed by the same pressure of emotion and drive as my view of climate change, and stems from the same roots. Single use plastic that is abandoned in oceans or shipped to countries in the Global South for “recycling”; pesticides that decimate the insect-life we rely on to keep the eco-system alive; constantly rising emissions that cause the atmosphere to heat unnaturally quickly and will lead to the tropics becoming too hot for humans to live in within the next 100 years; to me, they are all linked, and all deplorable.

Image by No-longer-here from Pixabay

To all (FE) teachers everywhere

Do you remember August, when you couldn’t imagine how to start? You walked into those echoing classrooms, with spaced-out, haphazard desks like a pre-schooler’s teeth, full of gaps where something valuable used to be, waiting impatiently to be filled with new life; though in this case, that wait might go on for years. Do you remember putting on a visor for the first time and getting vertigo, as though you would be shouting your lessons whilst trapped inside a fishbowl? There was the exhausting uncertainty of new procedures, every walk to the classroom becoming a fraught one way system that introduced you to staircases you never knew existed and blocked off familiar walkways without warning. You stood at the front of the room behind the ominous new screens and tried to remember what it felt like to teach a room full of students, when you hadn’t seen that many people in one place for six months at least; and all you were sure about was how utterly, bone-crushingly weary you were.

Do you remember September, when you thought you couldn’t go on? Each day started with the same PowerPoint, reminding all students that they must wear masks – like this, not like that – and stay at least as far apart as a full-grown alligator. Do you remember wishing you had one of those to hand, sometimes, walking around a room full of strangers as they crowded around you and you felt exposed and out of control? Your days became an endless looping lesson: smile, teach, wipe down the desks, take a deep breath where no one can see it behind your mask; and repeat. Half length lessons to allow for double the space between students; half hearted teaching to allow for the lack of movement, of resources, of relationship-building between everyone in the room.

Green background with yellow writing, saying "physical distancing - keep 1 alligator". Two white stick men with a white alligator between them demonstrates what is meant.

Do you remember October, when you knew for a fact you couldn’t go on? Do you remember that first time you got a call from a student, voice shaking as they told you that they had tested positive, how your heart pounded but your tone was steady as you talked them through what happened next whilst ending the call as quickly as possible to go through the increasingly familiar cycle of who needed to be told, and when, and how much? And the calls kept coming, and your own bubbles burst, and you became an expert in language that never had meaning before, like blended learning, and live-streaming Virtual Learning Environments, and “please don’t swear in this classroom, everything you say is being transmitted to those at home, and their kids are listening too.”

November and December blurred into one; no lockdown for education, no breathing space, no rest. Gather any evidence that you’ve ever completed work because we still don’t know where we’re going, we don’t know if you’ll have exams or not, we don’t know if we’ll be here next week, we don’t know if you will be either. And at last, Christmas came; and with it came the strong supposition that we would not be back after the break; the frantic reorganisation to see as many as possible through mocks, through assessments, through funding-driven paperwork before the clock struck midnight and we turned into too-highly-transmitting pumpkins; the knowledge that we had one afternoon to take everything we would need to prepare for potentially months of remote teaching.

January came, and I remember that. Mixed messages poured from the media, the government, the exam boards, bombarding us with “We know you want to know the answers; we don’t know when we’ll have them.” Students bombarded us, full of fear and uncertainty as they grappled with what might be asked of them, and we, who are so used to having all the answers, had no way of supporting them through. All lessons were live-streamed; all work submitted electronically; and we all spent hours hunched sideways over photographs of blurred handwriting, painstakingly drawing out the good points and the necessary improvements, only to have to start all over again when the mouse jumped and the highlighter flew in the wrong direction and the only way to correct it was to click to remove all ink from the photograph. January was also the month of upgrading home WiFi systems; of children unable to access Zoom calls from school because their teacher-parents had all the household devices in use; of teaching adults who did not know what a [shift] key or the @ symbol were how to hold them both down together to write an email address, and so allow them to access the lesson that was their only form of social contact in a week.

What about February; do you remember that? Do you remember talking to your students about the vaccines, answering their questions, hearing their stories, encouraging them to take it as soon as they were offered it, knowing that your own turn would not come for a long, long time yet? That strange sense of being proud of the care assistants, the school cleaners, the older and vulnerable and desperate individuals you teach and yet, for the first time in the relationship you have built and cultivated for years with your students, also being envious of what they had that you did not.

Do you remember March, with its feeling of being catapulted into a jet stream without being given time to work out where it was going, or how to get out at the end? Bam! Exams are back on for adult students – but to get them all through, they must sit them in 3 weeks. Bam! GCSEs are off and GCSE-style assessments are on; you know your students best, so it’s only fair you work out if they pass or fail; hope you don’t mind playing God with the lives of the people you have invested so much in for the last 6 months? Bam! Here are the new rules, the new requirements you need to remember, the new announcements that need to be made – masks must be stronger, lateral flow tests must be taken and reported, hope should probably be left at the door.

May. Beautiful May, that should draw the year to an close, full of presents and celebrations of the end of a hard year with a definite end. No beautiful May this year, but rather a bleeding into June, an unceasing cycle of exam retakes, and paperwork, and confused decisions that are reversed in minutes, and fear that, after all this, we would receive no funding for these students, forgotten at the best of times, and goodness knows, these are not the best of times; fear that as a result our own jobs would be lost, as rumours began, as rumours always do, about what next year would look like, and feel like, and how hard it will still be.

But do you know what? Now, it is July. And you, who were convinced at every step of this journey that you could not go on, have made it. You have done it. We have done it. And now, finally, superhero that you are, it is time to put down that cape and time, at last, to rest.

A lake with birds swimming on it, with a tree on the right-hand side, and dry earth with roots showing through in the foreground. It's a beautiful early summer day.
Peace. At last.

Slugs and snails and saving-the-world tales

It is time to face facts. I can no longer deny this fundamental truth about myself. I have become, to my horror and despair, one of Those People. I have entered into an eternal, doomed fight to the finish with a breed of monster which consumes all within its path, killing the things that keep it alive with no sense of self-preservation or restraint, and I am forever lost. I have become a Slug Hunter.

I’ve never been much of a gardener, choosing instead to enjoy the finished results with no real understanding of how they were achieved. Indeed, in one church-owned home in my past, a wonderfully green-fingered parishioner came for a garden party and was cast into such a mire of despair at my gardening handiwork that she was pruning back the roses within ten minutes of arriving. But this year, I felt differently. I invested more. I took the time to clear the ground; I picked stones out of waterlogged earth and used them to wall off different sections of my soon-to-be-planted herb garden; I dug in fresh compost to enrich and break up the clay-heavy soil; I lingered in garden centres to choose the best options to plant, not just the cheapest. I invested, emotionally and financially, in putting down roots. And so, when slugs arrived in their hundreds to lay claim to my labours, I took it personally. And I took it hard.

In my reaction, arbitrary and extreme though I admit it may seem to those around me (weeping over a parsley plant because the speed of its consumption took it from healthy plant to three bare stalks in just one night, anyone?), there are lessons I need to learn. And, like all lessons that are worth investing in, these do not relate only to this topic, or this fight. Thinking small and modestly, as ever, it seems to me that these are lessons that can be magnified, rippling on and on until they end up, quietly and accidentally, making all the difference in the world.

  1. Let go of how you thought things would be. Before I started anything, I had a vision of where I wanted it to end. There would be a herb garden, full of mint, some strawberries, and a glass of Pimms other herbs I use regularly scattered neatly within their rockery borders. Elsewhere would be flowers that staggered their blooming naturally throughout the year without needing too much support, and maybe, if they couldn’t be killed off with too much rain or not enough tenderness, a few sprouts stalks that I detest and The Paleontologist adores. I started with what I wanted the end result to look like, not what was appropriate for this space, what was possible in this timescale, what would be supported by this ecosystem or this soil or this weather. I tried to cram my surroundings into a mould of my own choosing, and it Did Not Work. Living a simpler life, linked more to our surroundings and the natural flow of the seasons and less to getting exactly what we want the instant we want it, we must aim to be a part of the whole, not expect to impose our will and desires over everything, and feel personally affronted when the slugs fail to read the memo to cease and desist in living off a certain herb patch just because it makes me feel like summer is finally here.
  2. Do your research. Then do it again. When you don’t know very much about a topic, it’s pretty important, it turns out, to do some research before you leap in headfirst. When the slugs first appeared, I realised I needed to know more. I started to investigate. I tried things out. They Did Not Work. (I’m looking at you, eggshells…) I did some more research. I tried some more things. They Did Not Work Either. So I did some more research. I’m trying more things. They haven’t worked yet, but there is still time, and that means there is still hope. Because sometimes, we have a great idea, and a couple of other people think it’s a good idea too, so that confirms that it’s worth trying. And sometimes it works. And sometimes it doesn’t. That doesn’t mean it was wrong to try. It doesn’t mean it won’t work for other people. It just means it didn’t work for us, in this moment, and so we can either accept defeat, or find another plan. Covid-19 has taught us all that when things really matter to us, we have to be able to be flexible. We need to take that lesson and run with it in the years to come; because giving up and accepting catastrophic climate change after the first hurdle or two just isn’t an option.
  3. Ask for help. Honestly speaking, I didn’t start by asking for help. I started more by having a whinge and a cry and hoping that The Vicar would do something magical and just make the slugs disappear. (Did I secretly want him to break all my principles and buy the most industrial-strength slug repellent out there, on Next Day Delivery, leaving me with both a solution and plausible deniability in its execution? Maaaybeee…)* Very few of us have all the answers, and none of us have the constant energy or the consistent willpower or the sheer, unwavering bloody-mindedness to keep going perpetually. So find someone who is good at being up when you’re down, or who gets their second wind when it’s already gone midnight and you have to do the school run tomorrow (hypothetically speaking, of course), or will just help you to think of other ideas that you haven’t yet tried, and help you to work out which of the ideas you have researched are practical, and which might accidentally set off a catastrophic chain reaction that will destroy the space-time continuum, or, at the very least, kill the hedgehogs as well as the slugs.
  4. Enjoy the unexpected successes. Seeing everything as hopeless is the quickest way I know to give up entirely. You won’t be able to change the world in the blink of an eye. You may not even live to see the world changed at all. So celebrate the small successes when they come. Celebrate the planting of an apple seed that actually starts to grow. Celebrate the mint plant that is still standing in the morning when, on slug patrol at 11:30pm, you were convinced all hope was lost. Celebrate the completed eco-bricks and the cycled school-runs and the conversations about how important this is to you that don’t end in arguments. Celebrate the legislation changing people’s hearts and minds one country, one company, one town at a time. And then keep working to do more. Let those successes spur you on, not make you complacent; because if one thing can change, so can many more.

*He didn’t do this. He did do something with salt that I didn’t ask too many questions about, but he didn’t do this.

A selection of the plants in my garden that have not (yet) been consumed by the local wildlife. In the interests of full disclosure, I should probably mention that the trees, as the most successful plants out there, were not planted by me. In fact, the most successful of all is probably more a weed than anything else, despite being as tall as the shed it is right next to…

I’m not ready yet.

I don’t get all this talk of returning to normal. The excitement, the anticipation, the clear expectations other seem to have: where do they come from? Where did they get the time and the space and the hope to feel these feelings?

A colourful line of cloth facemasks drying on the washing line.
Facemasks courtesy of the generosity of parishioners and the brilliance of Grimes Emporium…

There are things that I am looking forward to, of course. Teaching all day without needing a mask is one. Having the option of different ways to exhaust our children’s energy and enthusiasm – trampoline parks, museums, occupied play areas – is another. Seeing new places, where they speak new languages, eat interesting food and reliably have sun, is definitely a third. But these things, tempting though they are, are not enough to make me feel ready for an open and unrestricted return to the world.

I can’t remember Life Before. I know that sounds overly dramatic, and of course it’s not entirely, literally, true, but it is an emotional truth. Every drop of my essence in what feels like forever has been focused purely on survival. Not surviving The Plague – that, weird though it probably seems, hasn’t touched my nerve centres. If we get it we get it and we deal with it then; and so far, praise God, we haven’t had to face it. So what has drained me of my memory, my energy? What have I been surviving? The endless monotony of everything being required with no remission and no relief. Knowing that if it is not done by me it will not be done at all, and knowing that It Not Happening will harm all those around me more than I am willing to risk. Knowing there is no respite at home; no comprehension at work; and no stopping in sight. I try to list specifics for those not in this boat. They smile faintly and nod: they are in this storm with me, after all, and don’t I know how lucky, how privileged I am, to have a home, and a job, and physical contact with those I love? So I add guilt to my list of everything I am surviving, because I do know these things, and I do recognise my privilege, and that just makes it more impossible to put into words why this has been So Damn Hard.

Lockdown, locking in our minds as well as our bodies, has become so familiar it feels gloriously safe. It reduces the number of decisions that need to be made to the extent that even my brain-fogged mind can handle them. It gives an easy answer to every request I don’t agree with: another plastic toy, you say? Sorry, no non-essential shopping. Hug from an acquaintance, from a student, from someone who seems to think personal space just doesn’t apply to them? Not a chance. (Oh, the inexpressible relief of finally having my rejection of these cultural intimacies understood and accepted with a single look.) Feeling lonely, swamped by awareness of how little we see others outside our nuclear family; or colleagues, in work time? Everyone else is noticing the same, so we get to feel more unified with our Facebook connections in our mutual isolation than we ever did in free life.

Beyond my immediate, introverted concerns lies a world that feels no more ready than I do for the restarting that will be required. I have heard mutterings recently that this is the ideal time for a comprehensive overhauling of our social and educational system, refocusing on the skills needed in the 21st century, not on rote recitation of facts needed in the 19th. Why did schools not act on this when they returned in March? goes the cry. And my heart screams in fury – do they really need to ask why? Do they not see, these faceless criticisers, just how much creative energy would be needed to pull hope and joy back into our curricula? How much optimism and faith are needed to make the world again from scratch?

I am not ready, nor am I willing, to return to a world where the main impetus of all our joint creativity and passion is focused on getting back to where we left off as fast as we can. There was too much wrong with that system. It was based on inequality; on exploitation; on the assumption that there are some people who deserve good things and others who don’t, and that’s just the way the world works, so don’t waste your energy trying to change it. That system is broken. It has been broken morally since the start, and it has been broken practically by a pandemic that shattered everything and everyone it touched.

But what can replace it? Big dreams need big hearts; big minds; big imaginations. They cannot be served by hearts that have been surrounded by walls to keep them safe and spaces that are now too filled with the jagged emptiness of fear and uncertainty to easily cross again. They cannot be created by minds that are hollow with an overload of minute details, choices made day after day after day after day that became, overnight, a possible cause of life and death. They cannot be seen in imaginations that have been reduced by such long habit to the size of these four walls, by the sound of these four voices. They cannot be spun from nothingness, and that is all I have right now.

I am not ready. I need a break. Just for a minute, for a breath, for a chance, just one, tiny, break. Give me some time when the sun is shining and there is no fear, no racing motion, no dramatic need. Then I will come back stronger, steel and resilience forged in isolation having a chance to expand into the armour of change. Then, maybe, just maybe, I will be ready. But I am not ready yet.

Be loving; be loved

You talk about love as though it is easy, all sunshine and roses, fair trade chocolates in plastic-free packaging winking next to a card filled with personal memories and insightfully humourous anecdotes delivered on the right day and everything. You finish the story at the point when the lovers, having overcome fear, prejudice, jealousy or all three, link hands and lips and hearts and destinies and promise that this is it, as though that really is the end of the story, and not just the end of the first chapter. Love is the beautiful ideal, the point of keeping going, the escape from reality. Reminding us all of just how hard love is doesn’t sell; but it is the only way to comprehend what it really is.

Love is drinking too much and suddenly getting serious and saying all the beautiful things to your partner that you always forget to say when sober. It is composing music just for them, while they sit sulking downstairs because it is Valentine’s Day, again, and they think they have been forgotten, again. It is taking out the bins because they’ve had a bad day, and leaving the cushions all over the floor because they need to cuddle up and be held, and cooking spaghetti bolognese yet again because they like it, even though you really don’t. It is not being able to stop smiling when The One sends you a message and everyone in the room with you can tell straight away who it’s from, and not just because you’ve given them their own ring tone. It is wanting to be the person you see reflected in their eyes and being honest enough together to see how you both fall short of that, so much of the time.

Love is the hurt silence when they have, once again, utterly failed to listen to your desperate pleas to not have to do everything alone on school day mornings. It is the teasing that feels more like nagging than like fun. It is the darkness and the solitude of breaking your own promises and going to bed angry, after all. It is there in your sacrifices and there in your tears. It is the mindnumbing boredom of Yet Another Day of everything being exactly the same.

Love is bubbling up with your neighbours, instead of your own family, because you heard their screams before he left, and you know they will need you to get through this. Love is taking your baby sister’s kids to school as well as your own because it’s been raining all week and the blinding agony of her sickled cells means she won’t make it as far as the playground, never mind getting back again, and if that means you running late all day, well, that’s just what it means. Love is putting a plastic ring in a stolen envelope covered in felt-tipped red hearts, handed over surreptitiously because her mum says girls can’t marry girls and what will she do when she sees the ring? Love is hanging around your mother every week as she groans at her computer before you connect her to the world and she can continue to learn to spell her home town, her job title, the name she gave to you with so much hope all those years ago.

Love is the hitch in your mother’s step that you see as precious, that sets her apart from all the others, recognisable even without your inch-thick glasses on. Love is thinking she can do everything, and only realising when it’s your own turn to be The All-Fixable just how terrifying that unquestioning faith must have been. Love is your mindnumbing screams when you hear the words Terminal Cancer, and your hands when you sit at his bedside and pray for the end of his pain, knowing as you do that must also mean the end of his life. Love is still missing him decades later, and decades later still when roles reverse and the cared for become the carers.

Love is crossing oceans in dinghies and putting up with excrement being pushed through your letter box and learning new languages and giving up your dreams, all for the sake of your children. Love is the alien feeling of another soul growing in your belly, and it is the echoing silence of the moment you unconsciously caress that overstretched belly and touch nothing but empty space. Love is catching her vomit in your hands to save yet another set of sheets, and love is that first “I love you too” that is sleepily murmured with actual conviction, not just as words other people say.

Love is that friend who phones you when they’re bored because you make them laugh, and the rush of joy you feel when they do. Love is knowing that you can meet up again after two years apart and it will feel like it was only yesterday that you spent hours leaning in the doorways of your student bedrooms, never quite finishing everything you had to say to each other. Love is acceptance and pride and respect. Love sees your worth more than you ever will. Love tells the future Mr Friend, on first meeting him, that if he ever hurts her you will cut out his heart with a spoon.*

Love is recycling everything you can whilst knowing it will never be enough. Love is trying to live simply whilst caving all too often for one more pair of boots. Love is talking about the future and it is living and dreaming in the present. Love is saying “yes, and” when you really want to scream “no, never”; and it’s rolling up your sleeves and making good on your promises once you do, because some things are bigger and bolder and better than you are on your own.

Love is all these things, and a million more moments as well. And yes, sometimes love can even be sunshine, and flowers, and fair trade chocolates wrapped in plastic-free packaging, with a handmade card.

*I am sorry about that, incidentally. A little too much wine and a lot too much Alan Rickman going on there. I meant every word of it, though, and I still do.

Lockdown: it’s harder, this time.

It was easier, a year ago, to put everything on hold. We could see it coming, the tidal wave that made the world stand still, locked together in horror and determination. We believed we could do whatever it took. Politicians made promises, and hope triumphed over experience as we chose to believe that, this time, they really meant them. We stood together and we clapped and we sang. Shops shut themselves, and hotels opened, taking in the homeless and the shielders and the key workers alike. Schools, work, even the Queen told us to focus only on getting through this, nothing more, nothing less, because one day soon, life would go back to what we most wanted it to be. Hope shone in rainbows and warmth leapfrogged from garden to garden. Zoom was a novelty; online church felt all-inclusive; we made new connections and looked for the good in a world that had crashed into chaos. We recognised a circuit-breaker to cure us not only of coronavirus but of busyness, overconsumption, and dissociation from the world around us. And for those who walked to Hell and back in those early days, who saw no light, no joy, no peace? There was still the knowledge that this would pass. In a few short weeks, waiting at the end of that passing would be human contact, long summer days, and a world that was no longer burning.

Text on a purple background. Text reads "World: There's no way we can shut down everything to lower emissions and slow climate change. Mother Nature: Hold my beer."

It was easier, three months ago. Christmas was just around the corner, and with it came neighbourhoods full of light and the conviction that the economy would never be kept shut through December. The promised release from the rules, a hiatus of joy and sharing within the bleakness of midwinter and the gathering shadows, was a beacon before us. Speaking for my own bubble, the second lockdown passed unmarked and un-cared-for, as schools, colleges, and churches remained open, and our lives continued to crawl along in our now-familiar New Normal.

It is harder this time. We are once more locked in our houses, but this time there is no respite allowed. The world cannot stop; not again, not for anything. We can no longer draw in a collective breath, but can only let out a collective scream. Lessons must be taught and learned, productivity must be maintained. A daily dose of five hours of video calls is no longer even noteworthy, and the hope embodied in PE With Joe or science experiments with balloons and washing up liquid are things of distant memory, out of reach of both our energy and our time. Our houses have had a year building up the residue of continuous indwelling, with no intensive cleaning for the visits of guests or the judgement of relatives. Ten months of furlough or unpaid self-isolation have reduced disposable income to a dream of bygone generations. The walls are pressing in with the weight of the things we cannot give away, or replace, or continue, for fear of the consequences. We cannot wait more, and yet, we must. We cannot do more, and yet, we must. We cannot keep going, and yet, we must. And why? Because we no longer believe that this is as bad as it gets. One day, my fear whispers in the dead of night, will I look back on this present time and say it was still easier than it is at that distant, as yet unimaginable moment?

Darkness. At the bottom, just emerging from shadow, is a woman's chin and downturned lips.
Picture courtesy of Pixabay

This, too, will pass. Glimmers of vaccine-illuminated hope shine through the darkness of these January skies. This life will, one day, be a memory that shows we are stronger than we ever thought might be possible. But if that day seems too far away to touch or believe in; if you too are finding it so much harder this time, remember this: you are not alone.