Find what is essential – Sophia Hill

Senior event planner, living in East Sussex

Here I am on a Friday, back from a run on the Downs, amongst the skylarks. In a quiet house, which has once again been hoovered.  Eating toast and trying to stay away from emails. 

I am down to part-time as we weather this storm. I spend days explaining to people they can’t get refunds for postponed events. And trying not to be stung by the sometimes vitriolic responses I receive. 

We are all in this together. 

I bake bread for our elderly neighbours. They give me jam. 

Someone leaves a kohlrabi on the doorstep. And a bunch of rainbow chard. 

As things fall away I am struck by the phrase ‘essential’.

It’s used over and again on the news, ‘essential travel’ ‘essential items’. Maybe we are being shown what is essential, if only we’d stop and listen.

I find myself staring out the window for long periods of time, watching the startling number of birds around the house. Goldcrests dart in the leylandii hedge over the way, goldfinches in charming gangs, drifts of long-tailed tits, starlings, a solo woodpecker. A blackcap whose inquisitive ‘twee-ee’ rings above the rolling croon of the wood pigeons. 

In a quiet world, they are busy doing all that is essential. Nest building, food finding, basking in the spring sunshine, raising young, squabbling and mating. Swooping on outstretched wings above our disintegrating priorities. 

On the highest branch of the cherry tree a blackbird sings the dawn into being. Replaced at dusk by a robin, whose liquid night-song continues long after we have clapped for the NHS. A desperate hopeful moment of distanced-togetherness. 

I get the sense that the birds have seen it all before. Or maybe they have been waiting for us to catch up. To realise the sheer absurdity of what our lives have become. 

And here we are, adapting, growing, listening, grieving, missing, trying to keep busy. Being commanded by an invisible, as yet unknowable creature, beyond justice, beyond nation, and being told simply, ‘be still’. 

I am trying, for my own sanity, to stay in the present (in a quiet house, surrounded by birdsong) despite all my work being reliant on ‘when this is over’ (quantify ‘this’, quantify ‘over’). But something in me hopes, longs for ‘this’ to last long enough for a new way of being to be planted and to grow. 

I take part in a video conference, a speaker has to get up to let her dog out for a pee. Another’s child starts to shout in the background. The signal goes down.  It’s glitchy, and funny, and human. I love it. 

I teach colleagues via Google hangouts to make bread. Conversations with suppliers, delivery drivers, venue contacts quickly turn personal. I have wished total strangers ‘lots of love’ on the phone. I chat with neighbours I have never met from the window. I speak with old friends regularly. I’ve learned to make cheese. 

This feels good. I don’t want to lose it.

So my focus in this time is to find what is essential and hold to that. In the hope that whatever breaks down and whatever comes next, I can follow this thread. That this time, with all of its strangeness, is enough to practice, to strengthen this resolve.

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