What Covid has taught us about how our lives are intertwined

In his final column of 2021, JOHN ARNOLD reflects on the year just gone, 
What Covid has taught us about how our lives are intertwined

HEALTHCARE HEROES: Ciara Ni Faolain and Mairead Murphy in the pharmacy at Pairc Ui Chaoimh Vaccination Centre this year

WHEN we got married in the month of May in 1981, we were both in our early twenties and as madly in love then as we are four decades later.

We often wonder where the years have gone? The answer of course is -nowhere. Time waits for no man or woman, it just keeps rolling along like ‘Ol Man River’.

Anyway, there we were this time last year, thinking we had finally emerged from the cursed Covid. I remember writing somewhere that I thought “in a year’s time people will be trying to remember what Covid was and what all the fuss was about at all, at all” - how wrong I was on that score!

To mark the 40 years of matrimonial bliss, we had planned a return visit to Fuengirola, where we had spent our honeymoon in the last century. Back then, Fuengirola was described in the tourist brochures as a ‘little fishing town on the coast of Spain’ - in fairness that’s what we found.

It was a simply magical spot and in May, 1981, the soaring temperatures of June, July and August hadn’t yet arrived.

We travelled up to the little hilltop villages of Mijas with its ‘donkey taxis’, Ronda and Coin. We took a full day trip to Granada and a hydrofoil sea journey to Tangiers in Morrocco, across the Straits of Gibraltar.

Strange, isn’t it, how one thing affects another – often in far-flung places. In 1980, when wedding and honeymoon plans were being finalised, we had planned to holiday in Dubrovnik in Yugoslavia, a beautiful port town on the Mediterranean Sea. Not being inveterate travellers, we were guided completely by a travel company in Cork city – I recall one day coming home with 30 Sun Holiday brochures... choices, choices, choices!

Then, in May of 1980, Marshal Tito, the once long time ‘ruler’ of Yugoslavia, died. After his demise there was a lot of unrest in the country over several months. We were still heading for Dubrovnik as the New Year of ’81 was ‘rung in’ but by March and April huge student riots had spread widely throughout the country.

Our travel agent contacted us and advised against travelling so we had to come up with a Plan B fairly lively.

In fairness to Tito, I must say that while we never did yet get to Dubrovnik, Fuengirola was perfect. We were back there twice since and while it’s grown hugely in the intervening years, it still has that alluring feeling about it.

This week last year, as we prepared to belt out Auld Lang Syne, the journey back to Spain was uppermost on our minds so we had no Plan B. We all know what they say ’bout the ‘best laid plans of mice and men’ so there was no Spain in May nor since - but hope springs eternal.

I had read somewhere of different ideas to celebrate a couple’s Ruby wedding anniversary. One was to toast one another with a ruby red wine, but as a life-long Pioneer that was a non-starter for me!

Well, we celebrated in May in a quiet way, with our family. Since the start of this year of 2021 three more grandchildren have arrived - blessings in a difficult time.

Covid has certainly taught me one very valuable lesson - take nothing for granted because completely unexpected circumstances can upset everything.

The end of a year and the prospect of turning a new page for a New Year is truly a time to slow down, pause and evaluate the situation. Father Time is often depicted as a Scythe-bearing, decrepit old man as the fading year is consigned to the history books.

During the year, poet Brendan Kennelly died. His poem Begin really sums up the change-over, continuity and human eagerness to keep going, come what may: ‘Though we live in a world that dreams of ending, that always seems about to give in, something that will not acknowledge conclusion insists that we forever begin’.

Ah yes, this Covid plague is still here and for all we know may be just something we have to learn to live with saecula, saeculorem.

No-one knows about this relatively ‘new’ disease – delta, omicron, oh Lord, there are 22 more letters in the Greek alphabet!

You know, looking back on this year, and last year too, I do feel just humbled and amazed at the efforts of the thousands and thousands of people we call ‘front-line workers’. In summing up their trojan contribution to all of us in Ireland, the words of Winston Churchill are apt: “never was so much owed by so many to so few”. A sincere ‘Thank You’ to everyone concerned.

During the autumn, I got a fair fright from a gastrointestinal medical man on the Banks of My Own Lovely Lee. After initially removing a few internal polyps and then a large swelling from my wallet, he gave me an ultimatum. Over recent years, I’ve battled with weight loss and lost the battle repeatedly. Well, lads, this man put the frighteners under me in a pretty explosive fashion.

With the dint of his message, sure I lost half a stone in a week, but it returned - as if it had gone on a holiday.

Seriously, though, he laid it on the line for me, the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fat,, and he reckoned I have too much of the latter and that’s making me fatter. 4I don’t want to make a simple New Years resolution like ‘lose three stone weight’ - I’ve done that before. Just as the road to hell is paved with good intentions, diets are two a penny at this time of the year!

In fairness, the Cork Professor spelt it out for me: ‘Eat what you want but want what you eat’ - in other words, cut out all stuff that’s not needed to keep the body’s ‘engine’ in fine fettle.

‘Easier said than done,’ says I to him.

He agreed, but stressed that it’s not ‘either or’ so it’s up to me now, and traits like discipline, self-control and most of all regular exercise will have to figure largely in my thought and action process from now on.

Anyway, as the days of 2021 ebb away, I look forward in anticipation to 2022. As a student of history, I’m keenly aware that the events of a century ago - the Civil War in Ireland - give no cause or reason to celebrate or enthusiastically commemorate them. But to paraphrase Phil Coulter’s most famous song

For what’s done is done and what’s won is won

And what’s lost is lost and gone for ever

We can only pray for a bright, brand new day

In the country we love so well.

Things are tough now alright but better times are ahead, sure in another week or so we’ll notice a grand auld ‘stretch’ in the evenings.

We must have hope, keep the faith and mind each other now more than ever. If the Covid scourge has taught us anything, it is surely that ‘ar scaith a cheile a mhaireann na ndaoine’ - yes, we all live in each other’s shadow. Soon the dark winters clouds will disappear and the shadow thrown by the sun will return for us all.

What can be said in New Year rhymes,

That’s not been said a thousand times?

The new years come, the old years go,

We know we dream, we dream we know.

We rise up laughing with the light,

We lie down weeping with the night.

We hug the world until it stings,

We curse it then and sigh for wings.

We live, we love, we woo, we wed,

We wreathe our brides, we sheet our dead.

We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,

And that’s the burden of the year.

(‘The Year’ by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, 1910)

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