By Roger Salisbury
Preston, my birthplace, has been one of the northern towns to suffer a spike in the Virus recently. To alert the less Covid-conscious to the dangers of transmission the people of Preston were presented with posters saying ‘Don’t Kill Granny!’ I am an older person, and I have to accept that old age, with this Virus at large, defines me as ‘clinically vulnerable’. But health and safety can’t be the only priority for the over 70s, Virus or no Virus. It matters that I am not seen nor wanting to be seen as someone primarily to be cared for.
Among my contacts this lockdown on Zoom has been a group of eight of us from the same year at school. What has really struck me is how busy most of them are. I retired from church work at 67 and from charity work at 74. But no retirement is meant to signal that I finish being busy. The danger is that I busy myself only with doing things for me, when I should be busy actively contributing to society. But is that realistic for a ‘typical’ 76 year old especially during a pandemic?
Yes. Looking back I cannot recall ever living ‘on my own’ for more than a fortnight! Those we know who do live alone happen to be among the people we respect most of all for what they achieve and for how little they complain. But maybe the lockdown has served to bring home the profound importance of keeping in touch with such and other people - whatever their circumstances.
IT solutions are certainly useful, but short texts, zoom groups and copied in emails are not fully satisfying. A longer confidential call on the humble telephone system can provide a fuller understanding of a person’s life, feelings and needs. The same applies if we can sit down for a chat with someone in the garden. Such conversations are not so much pastoral as personal, not just giving to someone but both giving and receiving.
A ‘longer’ call is fine for me of course. But many people simply don’t have that time. Keeping in touch with them requires flexibility, thoughtfulness and imagination.
If lockdown threatens to make me less socially available, I can sense it tempting me to be less spiritually alert as well. Especially in the earlier stages of the virus I was suddenly aware of being closer to death. (Incidentally the illness that could lead there seemed scary.) This was not an inevitable possibility. Death was now well within touching distance. My instant response was to focus on sorting out my things - papers, stuff, unfinished projects - which I did with a vengeance! I was compelled by the thought of those who otherwise would have to deal with this negative kind of legacy, the mess I leave behind.
However, I realise now that my highest priority should have been attending to my relationship with God. I needed to answer this question - have I updated my readiness to meet him when I die? - Or this question - have I simply liked the idea that I will be safe in God’s hands beyond the grave without visiting or revisiting the grounds for believing that will actually be the case, the death and resurrection of Jesus? I fear I too easily rest on my laurels, that lockdown can induce a kind of sleepiness all-round.
I hope that on that day when I do meet Jesus face to face I will still be busy, and as ready as I can ever be.