“. . . gentleness is stronger than severity, water is stronger than rock, love is stronger than force.” Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

Put your hands up if you have felt any of the following in the last couple of months: denial, anger, depression. In the corners of your mind have you pleaded with the powers that be to give your loved ones and livelihoods safe passage through this time? Perhaps you have ultimately, quietly, come to accept the keep calm and carry on mantra, acknowledging that staying home as we’re told has been as much as we can do for the time being.

Trauma and absolution

Kubler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief, says that we experience a pattern of emotions after loss or trauma. In order, they are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. As the height of the lockdown appears to be lifting and industries have a date in the diary to return to work in some capacity, there is a sense of unease amongst individuals, the nation and the global community.

You don’t have to look very far for the reason. Whether we realise it or not, we have been through trauma. Trauma is defined as ‘a deeply distressing or disturbing experience’, and we seem to be going through the stages of grief that typically go with such a thing. Some individuals have experienced it more than others, but on a collective note, that’s what it is.

Furthermore, we’re dealing with a lack of absolution. We may well be meeting again, but it is not the VE Day parties in the streets that we had envisaged. The dragon has not been vanquished and we are heading out armed with our 2020’s weapon of choice – the face mask – anxious that the beast could rear its ugly head again.

The next stage

We are battle weary, irritable and scared. However, it’s clear that for the sake of other areas of our wellbeing – namely our mental health and our economic health – we do need to move forward and into a new phase. We cannot stay under the proverbial duvet forever.

In the words of our Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, “yes, this virus is the key challenge facing our country today. But it is not the only challenge”. We do need to begin to think about how we manage more than one thing at a time rather than waiting for a nice, orderly, linear timeline of events.

So where does that leave us? What can we do? How do we behave towards one another? In a world where our nerves are frayed and no one, not even the scientists, really have all the answers. Where many are attempting to return to some kind of normality following enormous personal loss and suffering, while others bear the mental scars of isolation, and plenty more lurch from one type of fear to another as they brace themselves to restart the education of their children, save businesses or compete in a dwindling jobs market.

My ten pence worth

I have thought long and hard about what feels like a very uneasy climate at the moment, one where there’s a lot of pain and a lot that needs careful thought and consideration. None of us have the answers, least of all me, and the last thing I would want to do is to contribute platitudes and how to’s that simply speak to one’s own agenda.

However, when you get to my stage of life, you get to know that there are people wiser than you whose thoughts and words provide a guiding light when you’re not entirely sure where you’re going. Having experienced my own losses and traumas, as most of us do, it’s my view that no one can offer one direct way to move forward.

The key is to simply keep going. If we are gentle with ourselves and others, recognise that meaningful change takes time and with eyes wide open keep putting one foot in front of the other, we might be surprised by where we find ourselves a year from now – personally, professionally and as a community.

In the words of Hermann Hesse in Siddhartha: “gentleness is stronger than severity, water is stronger than rock, love is stronger than force.”