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.

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Riding the limbo rollercoaster

It is the best of times, it is the worst of times; it is the age of outpourings of Facebook-fuelled generosity, it is the age of stockpiling, panic-driven selfishness; it is the epoch of global awareness, it is the epoch of fake news; it is the coming of Spring, after a winter of floods and wildfires; it is a fridge full of fresh vegetables about to decay, it is reaching for the tinned beans because cooking takes energy that ran out a geological age ago; it is the era of memes of hope, it is the era of gifs of despair. It is a time of limbo, of contradictions, of explosive numbness. It is Lockdown: week 2.

A black and white image of a girl, with a background of line-drawn clocks disintegrating into smoke around her.
Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay

No commute into work means that my regular Radio 4 news catch-up now only happens during my blurry semi-sleeping morning resurfacings, and so I am getting most of my news from social media and Newsround (which probably actually makes it quite balanced, though knowing The Paleontologist, there’s no guarantee that the Newsround episodes she’s watching aren’t from several months ago). Social media encourages me to luxuriate in the quality time now suddenly available with my loved ones, and I am excited by the change in pace and in focus and in priorities within the Western world. It simultaneously reminds me that there are oceans of darkness around us, of intensive care units filled with fathers, with sisters, with daughters; of those who are desperate enough to flee their homes into this locked-down society because this is still safer for their children than the communities they are leaving behind; of those desperate and unable to flee the homes that are defined as the only safe havens allowed, but where they will never feel safe, be safe, even be able to stay alive if they remain for as long as this may take. Social media shows me that the most stressful and unifying event in the daily calendar is PE with Joe Wicks; it reminds me of moments of joy and light-hearted mockery; I see crafts I would love to try, and games I am happy to steal, and helps me to stop and focus on the pieces of my heart that share this home with me and make the world a better place. It does all of this while making me feel that I should be baking more, and exercising more, and loving more, and gardening more, and singing more, and painting more, and just Being More. It says “Trust your gut. You’ve got this” while your gut is screaming at you that, whatever else you have (and you quite possibly have plenty) one thing you have not got is This.

Things change and change again, flickering between emotions quicker than a five year old gets bored. There are times (though not that many, as the Age of the Introverts has finally arrived) when I am desperate for any kind of adult company, only to find myself switching off my phone later the same day because I’m all Zoomed out. I’ve never hoovered my home this often, and yet I am driven even more distracted than usual by the piles of paper and cobwebs clouding up every corner. I want to spend our days making and experimenting and playing, but I also want my kids to learn independent time-filling control, which they do quite happily, when I let them, with screen time and convoluted games full of arguments and American accents and make-believe relationships that just don’t need me any more. I turn to binge-eating to avoid facing reality at a time when food is scare and protein-rich comfort food is almost non-existent. I seek others to mourn and grieve and despair with when the world I have railed against comes crashing to a halt.

And so I find myself both loving this time of pausing and dreaming and relaxing, and scared and angry and tense about what can possibly end this limbo. I teeter between absolute joy and utter despair. I try to ride this rollercoaster because at least a rollercoaster moves, even if this one moves only in a continuous seamless loop, a snake of time and timelessness swallowing its own tail. A lot of the time I laugh. Sometimes I scream. And always I look backwards, forwards, sideways, anywhere but right in front of my eyes. If life is what happened while we were making other plans, what else can we do to enjoy this limbo life we are all living right now?

A rainbow of grief and hope and memories of me trying to look after two much smaller munchkins on my own, many years ago. The carpet was never the same again, but it’s always felt worth the sacrifice.

Smiling, Spring and Coronavirus: keeping pandemonium in perspective

Spring landed this morning. The sky was endlessly, brilliantly, blue, bigger and brighter than it has been for months. The grass was uncomfortably luminous, real life filters making it too bright for eyes used to winter dullness. The glorious yellow of the blooming daffodils was matched only by the golden arms of the JCBs, carving out new foundations next to still-waterlogged floodplains. Blossom, too heavy now to be contained in scent-stuffed blisters, burst forth in transitory wonder. And driving through this cacophony of new life, my heart is crashing and my tummy is exploding with tension; a volcano transforming my focus and sapping my mind.

We all live in bubbles. Most of the time, we ignore their presence, looking out through their soapy rainbow walls at a world filtered for us by our own prejudices, seeing everything as though it fits perfectly with our own expectations. But every now and again – in elections, in pandemics, when meeting the family of a new and beloved partner – bubbles crash into each other and can no longer remain invisible. At these crunch points, we have a choice. Do we stay within our bubbles, shoring up the walls and hoping it will be enough to keep out the threat creeping towards us? Do we attempt to burst the opposing force in order to maintain our own security? Do we create a double bubble, the sides gelled together, though each remains integral to itself?

The thing that is most exhausting for me in this time of fear-fuelled headlines and anxiety-provoking bulk emails are the bridges between my bubbles. I have one for home, another for work. One for Quaker Meeting, and an adjacent one, sometimes attached, sometimes a lifetime apart, for Church. I carry these identities within me all the time, and the nothing moments, when I switch from teacher to mother, from daughter to counsellor, from worshipper to Vicar’s Wife, are always the points of my day when surges of energy rush me with adrenaline and exhaust me from my painted toenails through to my split ends. In normal times it can be overwhelming; and these, of course, are not normal times.

Keep calm and carry on is engrained – after all, we don’t want to make a fuss over nothing. Have a cup of tea and let everyone else whip themselves into a flap clashes in mid-thought with memories of those around me I know are immunocompromised, or over 70, or pregnant. My natural instinct to be a raging hypochondriac sits in chattering conflict with my deep-seated need to write off as suspect anything promoted by Boris Johnson. Wanting to do my job and do the best I can by my students, labouring over planning and guiding and marking and feeding back, is suddenly the worst thing I can do, and to help them the most I need to leave them alone. Together we learn the new language of self-isolation and social distancing, too new still to come up on the spellcheck. Every day I hear new myths, covering racism, justifying prejudice, anticipating financial hardship. All of it is based on fear masquerading as fact. All of it is spoken with authority and without understanding.

The world, for many, has been flipped inside out, and I feel buffeted along with it. If we cannot trust each other enough to not hoard toilet paper, how will we get through this together? (I was sitting smug on this one until it occured to me that our upcoming delivery from Who Gives A Crap will be sitting outside our front door all day, if it’s delivered at all. I never worried about other people walking off with it before – after all, it’s a box big enough for The Cowgirl to turn into a café, filled with nothing but toilet roll. All of a sudden, I feel a bit like I’m leaving gold dust in the front garden all day…) I won’t finish with advice I’m not sure I can follow either. Instead, I will share the three things I have learned today, and let tomorrow take care of itself.

  1. Don’t be like me. Be like The Vicar.* When the news updated us to leave the house only for essentials and work, I bought vegetables and withdrew cash. He bought a case of wine and visited the sick in hospital. It’s all about priorities.
  2. Don’t sing Happy Birthday. Unless it is your birthday, of course, at which point, indulge as much as you can in the singing, as now is not a good time for parties. Instead of singing, say the Lord’s Prayer. I have found little that helps me slow down, be mindful, and hope, as much as that.
  3. Stop. Talk. Share idiotic stories – from a distance of 2 metres, naturally. My introverted nature is close to dancing for joy at the idea of having a legitimate reason to enforce personal space, but even I’ve been talking to people that I would normally just smile at and move on. This is a time when we need every connection we can make, and actually, it’s lead to some great conversations. And the discovery that security tagging Extra Mature Cheddar is a thing. But mostly, it’s made me smile, and I for one needed more of that.
A screen filled with white and blushing pink blossom.

*I decided my husband needs a name on here, rather than just being defined by his relationship with me. After all, I’m very aware how frustrating that can be. I’m going to get in trouble for this name, as it isn’t technically his current job title. But hey, this is my blog, so I’ll stay a Vicar’s Wife, and he will stay The Vicar.

Why I wish I could break the rules

A long time ago, in a life-stage far far away, I did something unbelievable. The kind of thing that, looking back even a few days later, I couldn’t believe I really did. One Friday afternoon in sixth form, a group of us decided to leave school early and head down to Glastonbury Festival. We had tents and sleeping bags (well, most of us did. If I remember rightly, one individual named very aptly after a capricious Shakespearean character decided all he needed was a change of socks. Probably best not to ask, really.) We did not have tickets. Crowded into the back of a car, a bit terrified and very excited, listening to Britney Spears and laughing at how terrible the music was, was probably the closest I ever came to feeling like I had a part in the action. 

We parked up and started off in the direction of the fences, which suddenly looked rather more official than they had in my head. Close to the car park were a few scary-looking individuals who had cut holes already, and were charging a nominal fee – sometimes rather aggressively – to get through. We walked on. None of that nonsense for us, they said, though at that point my heart was pounding like mad, imagining that all these eighteen year old lads would be literally jumping over the fence, leaving unhealthy and unfit me on the other side, unable to get in, unable to leave. As was the case far more often than I realised, I suspect, I had underestimated the leaders of the crew. They kept going until we found a gap we could all squeeze through.

You are probably wondering why I am admitting to this now. The truth is, that is just about the only time in my life when I have not only broken the rules, but also refused to feel guilty about it. (Not long after this, the same classmates and I had the choice of jumping a queue or missing the Vatican Museum. We jumped the queue. I still feel guilty about it now.) Even when the news broke, shortly after our return, that so many people had broken in to Glastonbury that they were cancelling the whole festival the following year, we still felt proud rather than ashamed. Proud, and just a tad smug. 

A gorgeous image of the beauty and chaos of such a huge gathering of people.
By jaswooduk from UK – Glastonbury 2011, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18498961

Breaking the rules is absolutely not something I do. Even my acts of teenage rebellion were all within the stereotypes. We not only got our parents’ permission for the Glastonbury trip, for example, we also got our teachers’ permission to leave early (though there is a very good chance we didn’t tell either group we didn’t exactly have tickets…) When I started smoking – sorry, Mum, but I realise now you’re not daft and probably knew the whole time – it was an act of rebellion against my parents, my teachers, my goody-goody reputation; but I waited until I was legal before I started, and always used money I had earned myself to buy them, not money from my parents.

Breaking the rules genuinely makes me shake. Even bending the expectations fills me with quiverings. I seem to have passed this on to The Paleontologist too, unfortunately. When she was much younger and we were living somewhere very different, I took her to the local Eid celebration. It was the kind of party that had 20000 people attending, and its own funfair, so I was expecting her to be in her element. Instead, as we walked the familiar route to the local park that had been transformed into a place for prayers and celebration, her feet got slower and slower until eventually she stopped altogether. “What if they don’t want us there?” she whispered. “What if people like us aren’t allowed?”

I watch people who break the rules with a mixture of awe and horror. Extinction Rebellion have achieved amazing headlines, but my gut rebels at the idea of praising their methods. Greta Thunburg I’m happier with; strikes fit better within the language of revolt from my staunch Labour-supporting upbringing. But do we have to break the rules to be noticed? Does that mean that those of us who feel unable, morally or practically, to take that kind of action have no part to play at all? 

And it turns out that being congenitally incapable of breaking the rules has even deeper consequences than feeling unable to take full part in movements fighting for the things I most believe in. Breaking the rules should be a deliberate act, knowing what those rules are and rebelling against them. Middle class adulting in modern society means following a set of abstract and unwritten rules and keeping yourself and your loved ones within them, accepting the inevitable fallout when you step over a boundary no one ever told you was there. There are rules that deserve nothing less than annihilation; and yet, breaking the rules has consequences, not just for me, but for those dependent on me. And I can’t take that risk. So I struggle on, trying to work them out, only aware of them as they lie in ruins behind me. Have a home. Your own home. Keep that home tidy enough for a photoshoot at all times. Apologise profusely for the way your home looks if anyone pops in unexpectedly, even if it is spotless. Record everything – if a day out isn’t on social media, it didn’t really happen, right? – but whatever you do don’t go getting all self-obsessed. Value all things by their economic worth, whilst also bemoaning that stay at home parents are not treated with the respect they deserve. Recycle everything possible. Talk a lot about climate catastrophe. Own two cars. Go on holiday. Drink plant-based alternatives to milk.

What happens when you can’t keep to the rules? They are so many, so varied, so hidden under layers and layers of obscurity and obfuscation that even in trying to stick to the rules you end up shattering a lot of them. In fact, I’m fairly sure that one of the cardinal rules is to never acknowledge their presence. Some have never seen the rules in action, never understood what is expected and what you are expected to ignore. Many don’t know the rules, have never been shown them, have lived among people with different guidelines and spend every interaction expecting to be called out as a fraud. Some know the rules intimately, using them to their own advantage, manipulating the system to create a world that no one quite knows how to challenge. We have created a system so intricate, so all consuming, so woven into the mesh of our society, our economic system, our values, that we are no longer able to tell apart the rules that do good from the rules that do harm.

There are some rules – morality, decency, love – that deserve to be followed with the rigidity I use when waiting for the green man before crossing the road. Somehow, though, these rules seem to be the ones most neglected within the structures and confines of our everyday lives. Some need to be broken in emergencies. And some deserve to be wiped off the face of the world for all eternity. Particularly the one that says your worth as a person (and especially as a woman) is somehow inherently linked to your ability to keep up with the washing up. I really don’t like that one.

Saying it like this makes it sound so easy. Follow the good rules. Ignore the mediocre ones. Send the bad ones into oblivion. Trouble is, it’s really not always obvious which is which. And the likelihood is, some rules are life-giving for one person and a prison for another. One of my students, for example, the thing she is most proud of is keeping her house spotless. It gives her self-worth in a life that has consistently stripped it away, in a society that would cast her to the bottom of every heap going. How can I say it’s a bad rule that makes me feel terrible, when it gives her acceptance?

Some people see Christianity as full of endless rules. But Jesus didn’t just break the rules. He turned them upside down and ripped them apart from the inside out. He set down a way of life that is still more radical than anything we imagine today, and made it sound so easy to follow – just take your eyes off the rules, and follow love instead. Like every religion, one interpretation tends to dominate media consciousness, and it is never the whole picture. For me it is not about rules. There is one clear commandment, set in three parts (God does love threes…): Love your God, love others, love yourself. Do that and everything will be OK. It broke the rules then, it breaks them now. It seems to me that, thousands of years later, this is still the best advice we have. If we followed these rules, wouldn’t it be marvellous to be able to shelve the rest?

Plastic: Superhero, evil genius, or a good old-fashioned scapegoat?

Scooters. Phones. Toothpaste. Glasses. Roller skates. Fridges. Ankle Foot Orthoses (mobility aids, usually known as AFOs – so inevitably, my family only ever use the term UFO. In fact, I just had to Google the proper name…) Bicycles. Hearing aids. Cars. Lego (said in a growly, so-excited-the-hyper-just-screams-through kind of voice. The only way to say it properly; trust me.) Plastic is everywhere. It makes everyday life more accessible. It is a key ingredient in making modern living as (relatively) cheap as it is. It is used to make a marvellous mosaic of machines and games that have no purpose other than to just be fun. The Paleontologist, in particular, would not want to live in a world where 280-step Lego rollercoasters were not in existence. Of course, she would probably have picked up far less swear words too, but nobody’s perfect…

img_20190412_1932433932148247837922323.jpg
I give you Lego Jurassic World. With a snow mobile in the background, because frankly, why not? This is normal decoration for a dining room, right?

But plastic is the villain in every good story about the oceans, city parks, farms, even Mount Everest. Bags that sea creatures mistake for tasty jellyfish nibbles, or nappies that will still be around a hundred years after their wearers have themselves grown old and died, or teabags, for goodness sake – is nothing sacred? We have all been part of the creation of a culture of throwaway values, of putting convenience before worth.

I have been trying to cut down on plastic – particularly single use plastic. I have, of course, put as much plastic into the kerbside recycling as possible for some years (increasing dramatically when I realised I could rinse it out in the dishwasher instead of doing it by hand 😳) Recently, I have increased my efforts: toilet roll now magically appears on our doorstep, wrapped in paper and made from bamboo; milk arrives in glass bottles; and it turns out it is possible to get through a period without plastic. Well, except the ibuprofen boxes and chocolate wrappers. Oops…

The problem is that cutting down on plastic does not just mean saying no to throw away Costa cups and regifting Enchantimals. (No, I hadn’t heard of them either, until The Cowgirl got given some for her last birthday. Half skunk, half girl, and a build so skinny they make Barbie look rotund. So of course, the children love them.) Cutting down on plastic really means cutting down on the things that make it possible to work, have fun, have kids, have a hobby, all at the same time. It means forward planning, and being willing to go to different shops for different things, rather than just doing a Morrisons shop online and accepting that peppers and aubergines will arrive in polythene netting encased in shrinkwrap. It means aiming for a picnic bag that puts Mary Poppins to shame, filled with metal straws, collapsible cups, cloth handkerchiefs and bamboo cutlery. It means having the disposable income to invest in reusable options, and the disposable time to put in the groundwork, find the alternatives, make cleaning products at home, grow your own food.

As real life kicks in the questions get harder. Should I avoid plastic altogether, buying new non-plastic storage containers, or is it better to keep using old ice cream pots and takeaway tubs, which at least mean they are getting more use than they were intended for? How about going to a plastic free shop? Should I go there to do my shopping, even if I have to drive miles and end up wasting a huge amount of time and fuel? I always intend to buy vegetables without packaging, but then I have a week of mocks to mark and end up buying ready-cut vegetables in even more plastic than usual. Can you get medicines without plastic; and even if you can, should you? Children make their way round zoos and aquariums, entranced by the occupants and engaging with fantastic interactive displays educating them about the impacts of plastic waste on the environment; then they stock up on Haribo and Fruit Shoots for the drive home.

A few weeks ago, I helped my mother clear out her loft. Buried near the back, under 30+ years of slate dust, were a few bags of the toys my brother and I had outgrown a lifetime ago. We put them onto Olio, and after the usual confusion of not quite managing arranged pick-ups, they were passed on to someone intending to share them between her son and his nursery. When she saw them, her response was “They’re gorgeous. Almost too good to be played with.”

Almost too good to be played with? Toys that were second-hand 35 years ago and have been abandoned for years in a way that fills me with guilt (Toy Story has a lot to answer for) are still remarkable for their quality? What have we done? We all, as consumers, have a part in this. We have accepted as the status quo toys that become worn after 6 months – but that’s ok, because after that they will have been forgotten anyway, and something else will be in favour. Our phones last 18 months if we’re lucky, but that’s great, because the blistering pace of progress means we’re already eager for faster processing and better cameras after half that time. With a daughter so keen on excavations, I can’t help wondering: if there is still humanity on this planet in 500 years time, what will they find if they excavate a 21st century dwelling? What of our lives would be on display in museums of the future; and is that the picture we want them to form about us? It is a baffling contradiction that the things we consume break so easily, yet are made from materials that take centuries to degrade.

I don’t know how to fix this. I think it’s time to start making these links out loud, and talking about them more. It’s time to get back to looking for a form of protein The Paleontologist enjoys that doesn’t come wrapped in single-use, non-recyclable plastic. It’s time to acknowledge the power and responsibility we all have in these things, and use that power wisely and collectively. And after that? I think it might be time to sit down with my super-smart children, over a snack that doesn’t come double-wrapped in plastic, and work out together how we can possibly make this a better world to live in.

I am dust.

Ash Wednesday is dissonant. It is jarring. It makes me wriggle in my chair and want to cower behind the cushions at the same time.

I stand, in a beautiful church shimmering with gold, and have cold, damp ashes thumbed onto my forehead. They were made earlier in the week in my back garden, smoldering in the barbeque as the joy-filled palm crosses disintergrated into black, crispy mulch.

Remember that you are dust.

My children stand beside me, quiet because everyone around them looks different to a normal Sunday, quivering with pent-up energy made worse by knowing they cannot let it out. The solemnity hangs in the air, unexplained, inviting and incomprehensible.

To dust you will return.

My husband turns from me and gently, hand shaking just a touch, marks the cross on the forehead of each child, remembering their own mortality whilst doing everything he can to forget it. At least, that’s what I assume he’s thinking; I know it’s there in my mind.

I stumble back into the real world, awkwardly engaging in conversation when all I really want to do is be still, and breathe, and try to assimilate the fact that I have just had my own mortality literally pasted onto my forehead. In that moment, there is no turning away from the fact that this is me, and I will die, and that is part of why I am here.

Walking down the street, the dissonance follows me. Eyes do a double-take on seeing my forehead. Should I tell her she has something on her face? Is she one of those crazy people? No one mentions it. Everyone sees it.

I leave the church dreaming that this year, everything will be different. I will be thoughtful, and helpful, and kind every day through Lent. I will give up the food that is bad for me, and take up an act of kindness every day. I will pray more, and read the Bible every day, and come out of it knowing exactly what God wants of me.

All too soon, life intrudes again. Tomorrow is World Book Day, and so there is a Paleontologist to be transformed into Hermione Granger, and a Cowgirl who has decided that in fact, when she grows up, she wants to be a Tiger (because the Tiger is very naughty, and eats all the food in the cupboards, and I want to be like that too). Marking needs to be done. Meetings need to be had. Washing needs to be hung out to dry.

Usually, by this point in the evening, my pious intentions have already crumbled into dust. This year, the process started early, as I didn’t even make it to the Ash Wednesday service; the car had a flat tyre, and absorbed All Time into an abyss. So instead, in this pause when the wand is away, the tiger costume is hanging up, tomorrow’s marking is just about finished, and the house is asleep, I am trying to reach that point of stopping, and breathing, and waiting.

Because Ash Wednesday is not just dissonant because it reminds you that you will die, standing there in the midst of the busyness of everyday life. It is also jarring because it throws the knowledge that, in fact, none of this is about me, right into my face. Lent is not a sanctified excuse to lose weight. Nor is it the chance to answer those big questions about where my life is going or what might happen next to me. It’s not a time for self-congratulation, or self-absorption, or starting new projects.

Lent is a time when we remember what it is like to be lost and alone. It is a time of wandering through the desert, not knowing yet how the story will end, and having to trust that everything will happen as it should. It is a time of madness, and forgetting, and self-discovery. It is a time for remembering what it is to be homeless, and hopeless, and hungry. But more than that, more than anything else, it is a time of waiting. It is a time of listening. It is a time of holding on while the storm crashes by, because only then, in the resulting stillness, can the voice of God be heard.

And so, tonight, I am waiting.

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Image by Pexels on Pixabay