I’ve always been thankful for blessings. Family, friends, good health, food on the table, shelter and warmth are things I’m grateful for every day. There are other areas of my life that I’ll be ever-grateful for; my work has always made me happy: learning, researching, teaching drama, writing novels. It is an incredible feeling, being able to make others happy, to offer something creative that embellishes others’ lives in some way.
But over the last nine months, something has shifted. Simple things I took for granted have disappeared: sharing a drink in a cafe with a friend, dropping round to someone’s house for lunch and a chat. The old normality has changed and things I thought of as ordinary are real blessings that I can’t wait to have back again. First on my list is to hug my son again, and then his girlfriend. They live in a first floor flat in London and not a day passes when I don’t miss them and hope they’ll be all right. And I’m not alone in these strange times: we are all together in this experience of separation and anxiety, no one more than many many front line workers who deserve so much more than just our applause for their brave and vital contribution.
One thing I have come to value more than anything now my normality has been stripped away is the beauty of nature. Once, I could jump in my camper van and go to the beach, drive to a different county, to another country. Travelling makes me happy, and now I can only travel down the road on foot to the local woodlands. It must have been that way for people centuries ago, and how fascinating it is now to be in the position where our horizons have changed suddenly. It makes me feel a different kind of gratitude, both for what I once had and for what I am limited to now.
My walk takes me from my house, along the muddy roads, across a field, along a bridle path, over a style and through a kissing gate, then around a wavering woodland track. Whatever the weather, whatever the season, nature keeps on giving. My walk has been framed by bluebells, blackberries, holly berries, nuts, falling leaves, horses, pheasants, squirrels, foxes and the occasional badger or deer. I am privileged to be able to go outside and walk: if it’s cold, I wrap up; if it’s raining, I wear wellies. Whatever the weather, I know I am lucky to be outside, to breathe fresh air and to feel the sun, a breeze or rain on my face and the hard soil or squelching of mud underfoot. It’s a walk that takes me an hour and a half: during my walks, I have solved simple daily problems, devised novel plots, developed characters; I have sung, danced and climbed trees. Sometimes, my cat comes with me; Murphy loves the woods and if he feels tired, I pop him inside my coat to rest for a while. He’s seldom too tired to run the last downhill stretch with me.
I’m learning to be happy with small pleasures. A walk in the woods, a log fire when I get home, a simple bowl of steaming hot soup, these things will never replace hugging my child and my brother, or talking politics and philosophy and sharing a curry with dear friends but, in their own right, these small things are special and I am blessed.
Hopefully, before long, some sort of normality will return for us all. We can meet people, break bread together, share wine, embrace, have parties again and dance on tables. It will be wonderful and we will have so much to celebrate when we get our lives back again. And there will be so much to repair in our society: the effects of illness, loneliness, changed fortunes, new and systemic poverty and inequality: I hope we will all move forward, caring for and supporting each other.
But I won’t forget the small things I have now; how the simple gifts of nature will still be there, how I once took them for granted and how at this moment in time, although I have little else that remains from the old normality, their importance is huge. And I hope that by valuing the small things, I’ll value the larger things even more, and emerge from the current situation feeling totllay grateful for the many blessings life offers.