It is the Little Joys

Last night, I left the watering of the garden till after 9pm, as it was just too hot to do it earlier. When I reached the corner near the apple tree, I was greeted with a heavenly scent. For a few moments, I could not work out what it was, as our scented roses in that part of the garden have all finished. Then it dawned on me that it was the honeysuckle, which had just started its second bloom after providing us with nearly two months of pleasure in April and May.

All of a sudden, the anxiety that has been at the back of my mind since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and fatigue due to the sultry weather evaporated. Joy and a sense of lightness filled my heart.

Like millions of people in the UK, my world has been turned upside down by the pandemic. In fact, I suffered from the impact of the coronavirus twice, as six members of my Chinese family were stranded in Wuhan when it went into lock down. The rest of my family live in Hubei. I went to Wuhan on 3rd January and returned to London on 17th January. The anguish, fear, despair and a sense of helplessness I felt during the first six weeks of the Wuhan lockdown was the worst experience in my life. I studied and worked in that city for 13 years before I came to the UK. Apart from ten members of my family, many of my friends live in Wuhan. I shared their suffering and pain.

I wrote to our MP, Public Health England and the Chief Medical Officer, urging them to take immediate action to protect our people or we would become the Wuhan in Europe. It all fell on deaf ears. After all, Wuhan was a foreign city of which 95% of the UK population had never heard. David Cameron thought Wuhan was a Chinese province, despite the fact that Theresa May visited Wuhan in January 2018.

During the first week of the lockdown in the UK, I had reached a point that the word coronavirus would trigger off a reaction similar to a panic attack. I stopped reading or watching the news completely and cut myself off from a world where the pandemic dominated everything.

I returned to Nature literally and metaphorically. To me, it was easy and natural, as I always loved gardening and long walks in open field, woodland and along waterways. The only difference was that I had all the time in the world to do what I wanted to do as long as I did not break the government's rules for the lockdown.

April and May passed in bliss. It sounded callous to feel or say so as tens of thousands of people were dying around the world and the economy was bleeding. It had taken me a while to reach the state of 'detachment'. At the time the lockdown started in the UK, the toll the pandemic had taken on my mental and physical well being started to manifest itself. Each interview with a family member or friend of a Covid-19 victim brought me untold sorrow. The daily climb of the total number of deaths around the world weighed heavily on my heart. If I allowed the sorrow and the heaviness to dominate my life, not only would I become unwell, it would also have a negative impact on the wellbeing of my immediate family. Above all, getting upset would not have helped anyone.

The bird song at dawn and in the evening, the tender new leaves of the trees, the spring blossoms and the green fields. I found joy in everything in Nature. A family of wrens nested under the eaves of our chalet at the bottom of the garden. Robins prepared a new home to start their family in the ivy foliage attached to a huge alder tree. I even discovered two magnificent mimosa trees in our neighbourhood, which I had been too busy to notice before.

One evening, Channel 4 did an interview with Nicola Benedetti whose foundation had started to offer on-line violin lessons. After the interview, the programme played her recording of Sospiri. As the haunting music flowed, scenes of empty streets, closed shops and forlorn traffic lights rolled out in slow motion. At that moment, I allowed unshed tears to stream down my face unchecked.

When June arrived, so did a fresh wave of anxiety. The magnitude of the impact of Covid-19 on my business had not entered my consciousness until that point. The tense relationship between China and the US and the UK taking a tough line on China deepened my unease.

As a conference interpreter, I rely heavily on international events and the interaction between China and the rest of the world, UK and the EU in particular. On top of that, I worry about my son's future, as he graduated from Oxford in June. Every economic indication points towards a deep and dark winter ahead of us. It is not going to be a short one either.

No matter what I did, anxiety and worry followed me like a shadow. Shapeless and soundless. It made sure that I felt its presence. Not only did it make me feel down, it took away my ability and motivation to climb out of the low ebb.

I did what I always did when I needed comfort and sought for strength. I contacted family and friends and I returned to Nature.

One day in late June, I went for a walk in the floodplain of Cove Brook. The magic of the spring had gone. The birds were no longer singing in the woods, but the floodplain had turned into a meadow carpeted with buttercups, wild pink and blue flowers. My heart leapt with happiness. The fox cubs and a large brown deer I encountered there in the spring were nowhere to be seen. Black and blue dragonflies, painted lady and red admiral butterflies hovered over the water. Crickets sang their hearts out in the tall grass. On the way home, I saw two elderly couples talk to each other over the metal railing that divided their bungalows. One of them was too frail to stand and he rested his elbows on the railing for some support. This scene made my eyes misty. The elderly couples had spent weeks indoors shielding and they must have been so glad that they could finally come out and chat to their neighbours. The elderly couples reminded me of my childhood in the village in south central China where community life thrived. By the time I came home, the miasma that had surrounded me for weeks was lifted.

These days, anything that reminds me of my childhood brings a sense of security and wellbeing. The past will not change and it acquires a golden hue through nostalgia. In times of uncertainty, a connection to the past is very reassuring indeed.

I tidied up the area around our tiny pond. As it was too late to plant anything there, I arranged pitchers, vases, pebbles and seashells I collected from places I had visited around the world on the edge of the pond. The whole corner was transformed. Now it has become my favourite place in the garden where I go and sit for breakfast, lunch and a cup of coffee.

One day, a robin came to bathe in the pond. It was the first time I saw a bird playing in the pond. Being in the proximity of wildlife always makes me happy and feel serene.

One morning, I saw a beautiful water lily with pale yellow petals and an intense yellow heart hidden under the leaves. I had given up hope after eight years of waiting. Now it happened.

I continue my routine of jogging or walking in the woods and open fields or just in the neighbourhood. Each day I discover small joy either in Nature or in my fellow human beings. One day as I jogged towards the narrow passage under the railway bridge, a lady who was already under the bridge walked back. She bowed and said to me: 'All clear, my dear.' She beamed at me with warmth that gladdened my heart.

This morning, I saw a cornflower with the most beautiful shade of blue in our back garden. Last autumn, my husband picked a lot of cornflower seeds from the park near his office in Surrey University Research Park, Guildford and we scattered them in the back garden. This is the only flower we got. It makes me very, very happy. I will go and see it at least once a day.

During the recent months, my mind kept going back to the words of the Lebanese poet, Khalil-Gibran which I read at the age of 19. The rough translation of those words is: "Life is like a string of beads that consists of countless little worries and troubles. Those who are positive will count the beads with a smile on their face." Perhaps we can also say life is like a strain of beads that consists of countless little joys. The beads are scattered around. It is up to us to look for and discover them.

Posted: 9th August 2020

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