I’m trying to get out and into the fresh air during the day every day – like so many people, this year has been a complex mixture. For far too many days I never left the house and rarely left my laptop.
Almost all of us must have had our lives altered dramatically this year, in ways we could not have imagined a year ago. I’m trying to make sense of it – and being under the tree canopy along the disused railway path near me is one of several places I spend time when I am trying to make the world make sense. Today was a sunny, beautiful autumn day. Yesterday was more mixed – and who knows what tomorrow will bring.
But as it was beautiful today, I wanted to make the most of the moment and it gave me a chance to reflect on the sudden, hopeful news about a vaccine coming to the end of the trial phase with 90% efficacy. That’s astonishing and wonderful news. If most people take up the vaccine when asked – and if the process continues smoothly – we may well be out of this crisis by Spring. A rainbow came out as I walked up to the railway path and heard the news in my headphones. I am trying to avoid being distracted by news on my lunchtime walk but I was so glad that I chose to be distracted this time. This year has brought so many people a great deal of pain, so it’s hard not to be emotional at the thought that it might be over in the foreseeable future.
There was a weekend earlier in the year which I will never forget. This was when the revelations about Dominic Cummings’ trip across the country came to light. Emails poured into my inbox – I suspect into the inbox of every MP – of feelings of hurt and betrayal, of stories of weddings cancelled and funerals missed, heart-breaking descriptions of not being with a loved one at the time of death and having to say goodbye via a kind nurse or care home assistant. People who had to stay away from a vulnerable shielding relative who was lonely, or pull back from support for a friend in a time of real trouble, all to stick to the rules to protect us all and the NHS from the ravages of this disease. The people who have suffered will carry that forever.
At the same time, people have lost jobs and businesses, livelihoods they have spent years building up. Others have been dedicated to the care and treatment of sick and vulnerable people, often putting their own lives and health on the line. Schools, colleges, businesses, arts organisations, charities – all the organisations which make our beautiful city such a good place to live – have gone way above and beyond anything we could have imagined a year ago, to help keep lives going, to help feed people, to try to heal loneliness. We’ve found within ourselves a resilience maybe we didn’t know we had. We’ve struggled. And we’ve also realised who and what really matters to us – often to our surprise.
Some people have compared our experience as a family of nations this year to the experience of previous generations during world wars – there are clearly some similarities and some very big differences. The similarities include sacrifice and the love we’ve all needed to give and receive to keep us going through that sacrifice. Differences include the lack of physical contact, the change in how we comfort each other, how we greet each other, how we use public and social space. Even how we are in our own homes.
Many people went into lockdown promising themselves they’d come out the other end fitter and having read more books or decorated the spare room. Sometimes that happened, sometimes not. We’ve had to learn to forgive ourselves for failings which wouldn’t even have guessed at last year. We’ve learnt how to use technology – and we’ve learnt how tough it is to keep in touch without it.
The vaccine wasn’t the only hopeful event of recent days – we saw at the weekend the election of Joe Biden to President of the USA and Kamala Harris as Vice President. That’s a big deal.
Already, the fact that one of the most powerful nations in the world has changed its leader from climate-sceptic to climate change campaigner has had an impact on public discussion. The fact that the VP is a woman of colour, a symbolic impact which will last for generations.
I was particularly struck by Biden and Harris’s first speeches after the result was confirmed, where they talked about the importance of equality, the recognition of diversity and the strength of those values. It has been a year in which racial inequality has been highlighted once more. Evidence is emerging of the way the Covid crisis has affected disabled people. And the gender pay gap has been exacerbated this year. So it really matters that the President and Vice President embrace the discussion of equality and don’t shy away from it as ‘too difficult’.
With the rainbow, the tree-scape, the vaccine and the USA elections, I’m starting to feel the beginnings of hope once more.