Lockdown and haircuts and beards -oh my!
If you’ve met me online over the last 12 months you will have noticed a lot more facial hair. One of the things I decided in lockdown and home-working was that I’d see how growing the beard went. Sometimes the hair has followed suit -at the moment it’s longer than since I was about 20. So now the minor existential question is, what next for the beard: does it stay in Santa Claus mode once face-to-face working becomes more regular again?
I guess I’m thinking of my minor decision about the beard as a kind of symbol for the host of tiny and bigger decisions we all face as we move away from the pandemic (in as far as we do). What do we hold onto? What do we embrace (again?)? What should we change and challenge or refuse to allow to become once again normal?
My worry is well articulated by a USAmerican pastor, Mick Glenn, who wrote recently,
COVID didn’t break anything. COVID showed us what was broken …Remember … how we had discovered a new pace of life during the quarantine? How being forced to stay home allowed us to rediscover the simple pleasures…? Now, with quarantines and restrictions being lifted… It’s as if we’ve learned nothing.*
Perhaps that last line is a bit harsh in seeming to leave the blame at our individual doorsteps. One of the things that I’ve been relearning in the pandemic is that there are some things that belong in the collective action category and that we can’t do individually unassisted. We saw how it is hard if not impossible to have people doing the right things to look after the health of others if we are not supported in doing so. In psychological studies it’s the ‘freeloader problem’: if some get away with it, more and more cease to bother until no-one does it. Or it’s the even more existential problem of ‘if someone only really has a choice between starving and self-isolation’… These are issues that we understood needed collective and co-ordinated action.
All of which is to say that, as we begin to live with fewer restrictions for the sake of protecting the lives and wellbeing of others, there are things that we cannot do alone. And there are some other things that we can do individually but it will be hard to resist or steer a different course with the pull of old habits and the psychological pressure of others’ behaviour and opinions weighing heavily within us.
I’m going to focus now, though, on some things that we can do individually and in small groups.
A Three-strand cord
One idea for objectifying this reflection is to create a three-stranded bracelet made of different colours of thread braided together. It could be worn like a friendship bracelet. Or you could find something like it and repurpose it. The idea being to have something on you to remind you of your reflections.
If you fancy doing this, grab yourself three pieces of wool or embroidery silk (or different coloured string) in distinct colours. It’s probably best to have them around 15- 20cm long. Tie them together in a firm knot at one end and then get ready to plait them together. You’ll be aiming for a plaited length to go around your wrist or maybe shorter if you wished to wear it with a safety pin as a badge, brooch or sleeve decoration.
Before you start to plait them together, give yourself 20 minutes to reflect with the strands. Perhaps journal your reflections if you’re a journalling sort of person.
One thread would represent what it is that we have come to value in lockdowns and restrictions. This could be about things it freed us up to do or not do, skills developed, opportunities opened up and/or perspectives on life that were able to germinate in us. These would be things that in some way, shape or form, we would like to see continue as a thread in our lives.
The second strand could be about the challenges yet unfaced -or only initially faced; what remains undone. So as we consider this strand we recognise the things that must change or that we must try to change. The time for other people, God, refreshing activity or inactivity that we realise that we should preserve.
The third strand could represent the changes of habit and action that we put our hands to. “insights are evanescent, and habit has a leaden inertia”** -If we do not seize this Day, this opportune moment, we risk losing the momentum we need to change for good as older, more neurally-established patterns reassert themselves. This strand is about, in effect, praying “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”, in that we are trying to anticipate the points where we may most easily get sucked back into the momentum of old habits, peer pressures and dutiful citizenship against our better wishes or best selves. God help us! Indeed!
As we then tie the three cords together at the end to secure the braiding, the knot might represent to us the point where our individual effort and struggle meets the collective; that our struggle is not against flesh and blood only but against the bigger forces oppressing and deforming human thriving and flourishing.
For us as Christians, this surely involves recognising that there is, actually, no going back to normal (even if we wanted to). This knot and tying the bracelet back on itself represents recognising what we have learnt and begun to desire differently. It’s about us recognising that the old normal is replete with wrongs perpetrated daily against the poor and marginalised and against the biomes of the planet. It is a ‘normal’ that sustained itself with regular infusions of hateful and subtle propaganda into the popular mindscape. Tying the knot is about resolving to make what efforts we can to change things for the common good, to play our part in making the world a better place using the insights we have gained. As we snip off the excess thread, remember there’s no going back.
*Mike Glenn, Flunking Pandemic <https://www.christianitytoday.com/scot-mcknight/2021/june/flunking-pandemic.html> accessed 8/6/2021
** Tim Kreider, I’m Not Scared to Reenter Society. I’m Just Not Sure I Want To, <https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/05/post-pandemic-dont-want-to-reenter-society/619045/ acc.9/6/21