Heartbreaking stories of loss and missed loved ones have combined with hope for the future during the last 12 months, reflects the Bishop of Ripon, the Rt Revd Dr Helen-Ann Hartley.
In a piece published today in Harrogate’s online newspaper, The Stray Ferret, Bishop Helen writes:
“What were you doing a year ago today?
A glance at my diary on March 23, 2020 includes prominent use of the following words: ‘postponed’, ‘cancelled’, ‘Zoom’ and ‘evening prayer dial-in’.
Certainly a contrast to the diary appointments of the previous week.
On March 23, 2020 we entered Lockdown 1.
I am sure I am not the only one who never imagined that a year later we would still be in a lockdown, with 4.26 million people having been infected with COVID, and as of the time of writing, 125,516 tragically dead in the UK.
The specificity of that number is important, because each life matters. It makes for grim reading, and the reality is that so many more lives have been impacted in ways that don’t make the headlines.
It is significant that not all of those lives were lost to the virus. There are heartbreaking stories of people who have died without their loved ones at their side, with goodbyes said on the wavering screen of a tablet or smartphone. And funeral services with limited loved ones present; that’s been so hard too.
We’ve had to get used to face-masks, distancing, and the words ‘you’re on mute’ have become rather over-used in my vocabulary. I’m acutely aware of how local businesses have been impacted; incomes and long worked-for livelihoods decimated. The road to recovery in that regard is a long and winding one.
On a personal note, I haven’t hugged my parents in over a year, and haven’t seen them face-to-face since October last year. Their medical challenges and emergency hospital stays in the interim have been hard to navigate at a distance, and I’ve been grateful for the kindness of their neighbours who have kept an eye on them. And I can’t forget the delivery drivers who have brought flowers and treats to their front door.
Perhaps it’s those little things I have learnt to appreciate all the more? Perhaps it’s the realisation also of how much our lives are bound up with those of our neighbours? And there’s the recognition of my own mortality, accompanied by the question ‘do I really need all this stuff around me?’ Maybe you have your own thoughts and experiences too?
One thing that has been persistent through all these wonderings and experiences however is an abiding hope. This isn’t a naïve wishful musing; it’s grounded in my faith (hopefully you won’t be surprised to hear me say that).
A famous theologian reputedly said: ‘even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree’. During this past year, a light has been shone on many things, exposing raw inequalities in our communities and in society. These cannot be ignored.
That light however has also illuminated kindness and compassion, and the many examples we have witnessed in that regard cannot be ignored either. Hope is the bridge we have to get us into the next day, and the day after that. Hope is the vaccine, the fruit of scientific endeavour and medical expertise.
One thing I am really sure of, is that despite our best efforts at times, we really are all in this together.
So much has changed this past year, yet I have been consistently amazed at the resilience of local communities. For that I give thanks.
Strength is sometimes found in the most unlikely of places. Now where’s that apple tree? I need to go and get it planted!”