I was not sure how or if to write this blog; not sure what title to give it; not even certain I had anything meaningful to say. I am still not sure. Nonetheless I wanted to write something about this time we are all living through, as experienced from our home, here at Greenville.
Some people have called the Covid 19 pandemic and the resulting closure and lockdowns of so many Economies around the world as historically ‘unprecedented’; others suggest ‘strange’, some think there are similarities to the trauma of a World War. Others snarl that it was a ‘conspiracy’ conjured up in China. I don’t think so!
We hear about the ‘new normal’ , of ‘social distancing’, ‘cocooning’ etc. Étienne started to ask in the mornings, how many people had died the day before from Covid 19. I feel for him, in particular, as he struggles to understand it all.
For those who became extremely ill from this disease or lost someone to Covid 19, they probably have not yet found the words to express the trauma they have recently endured. They are still suspended in their shock and grief. The severity of this disease, the rapidity at which it was transmitted across the globe, the enormous numbers of deaths in the space of a few months… this would have appeared unimaginable to contemplate if we had been told in January how the first half of 2020 would transpire.
My heart goes out to those who were unable to see a loved one who was very sick or if the worst came to the worst , as it did for thousands of people around the world, unable to hold a funeral. Yet these ‘unimaginable situations’ have now become part of our understanding of the reality of daily life.
Life on a very busy and crowded planet.
On the positive it has also been a time of reflection for many; a time to stand back from the ‘rat race’ of life and maybe question aspects of it. The obsessive routines that consumed us and which were believed so fundamental to day to day existence – were, suddenly, one day (March 12th to be precise, in Ireland) just simply, called to a halt.
People have more time with their families, are eating more home made food, pollution levels have reduced dramatically and while many have suffered severe economic loss, new business opportunities have emerged.
In Between Times
My sister-in-law Tina sent me a blog written by a friend of hers, Jillian, who lost her brother two years ago http://abroadsthoughtsfromhome.wordpress.com/2020/05/12/idir/
It really resonated with me. Jillian reflects on the Irish word ‘idir’ – meaning ‘between’. She writes how the Covid 19 lockdown gave her time to reflect on the beauty of that Irish word. Lockdown is a ‘between’ time where our old world is in the past and our new world has yet to emerge. This has similarities for her to the experience of grief when one wants the world to stop turning so we can come to terms with the enormity of deep loss.
In Anthropology the ‘between phase’ is used in writings in the context of ‘rites of passage’ that ethnographers observed, particularly when studying ‘non western’ cultures. The word ‘liminal’ or ‘threshold’ is used to explain the mid phase in a rite of passage. The word ‘liminal’ comes from the Latin word ‘limen’ meaning ‘a threshold’ – so it is the ‘between’ stage in a rite of passage, where a person’s old status ends, and she/he is in transition to a new position or status. The folklorists Arnold van Gennep initially coined the term in the early 20th century and then the Anthropologist Victor Turner, in the 1970s, incorporated it into his ethnographic work.
Jillian’s words brought back to me a vivid memory of my first experience of losing a loved one when my Father died twenty-one years ago, at Christmas time. Daddy died suddenly, sitting by the fire side, at the home he and Mother retired to on Roscrea Road in Templemore. I was living with them again at that time, finishing the writing of my PhD and I remember my Mother calling me to come quickly , there was something wrong with Daddy. We both stood beside him, helpless, as he took his last breaths.
Just days after Daddy died and a few days before Christmas my brother Tim and I went to do some basic grocery shopping in Roscrea. I recall observing all the activity and excitement in the lead up to that Christmas – people appeared to be almost frantically rushing around. It all seemed absurd. I remember feeling as if I were looking from inside an invisible cloak at what was happening in the world around me. I could see this world – but that world could not really see, nor reach me.
Suspended in pain and grief, time just didn’t appear to be moving forward anymore for us, like it was for everybody else. Twenty one years later, having endured miscarriages; lost Mother in 2017 (whom I think I must have believed would live forever!), and only ten months later my brother Tim – I realise that for me, this sensation of being ‘suspended in time’ is an intrinsic part of the aftermath of deep grief or the experience of some profound loss or change in life.
Lockdown can be seen as a type of ‘collective’ version, of that ‘personal’ experience – when time appears to have been moving too fast and one needs space to mourn and reflect at a remove from ‘normal’ life.
To prepare for ……the ‘next phase’.
Greenville in the Sunshine
So what has life been like in Greenville during this period of liminal lockdown?
Well we have all had bad days! But we have had many many good days too.
The sun has been shining almost every day and Greenville looks beautiful in the sun. I took this picture from the parlour of the cottage looking out at the yard one afternoon last week. I was struck by how lovely the deep red curtains looked against the backdrop of the blossoming clematis.
Schooling at Home
The boys situation was probably more challenging as they adjusted to schools closing and doing classes on line from home. Our eldest son Don told me on March 12th ,when he got in from school, that he hugged his friends at the school gate because, he said: ‘we don’t know when we will see each other again’. I was very moved by this, that somehow the enormity of it all had sunk in so quickly to a group of fourteen and fifteen year olds.
In those weeks he appears to have grown up so much and I am proud of the three of them and how good-humouredly they have handled it all.
As we got used to on-line school classes we worked out the best location to get a good internet signal was in the cottage part of the house so that has become our ‘school hub’ , which is great seeing as clearly we have no guests at the moment – and won’t for the foreseeable future.
Don decided to use the parlour of the cottage to study and take classes on line and that room has a table and set of chairs that Joseph inherited from his late Mother. We are happy to see him work there and know his Devine Grandparents would be too.
Joss uses the Aula in the cottage and is seated at a table and chair that belonged to my late Grandparents from Shanakill. The Teachers at Our Lady’s Secondary School in Templemore have been very supportive to all their students and exams will also be done on line in the week ahead.
Étienne in the mean time looks forward every week day morning to the RTE 2 ‘Home School Hub’ programme and as I am usually in the room working when he is watching it, I feel Múinteoir Ray, Múinteoir Clíona and Múinteoir John are part the family at this stage! He misses all his friends from Killea National School and we are grateful for all the contact from the school Principal Mary Kennedy.
Music for the Ancestors
Music classes that used to happen each Friday in Carlow, also take place on a Friday in the cottage, when the boy’s guitar teacher Jack Kennedy, ‘tunes into Greenvillle ‘, and all three boys take their weekly class there with him. I have no doubt the ancestors of the cottage must be loving all this activity. Greenville is always a busy place at this time of year with guests, but somehow it feels good to have the place all to ourselves again – we feel closer to all those ancestral spirits.
Joseph and I walked most days in our lovely local town park in Templemore before lockdown, but when the 2 km restriction was introduced, we decided instead to walk up and down the main lane at Killough. Every day for the last number of weeks, we all head off for our daily walk, with Mandjar and Venice, our pet dogs in tow – a little ritual that has brought us all great joy, the many memories of the lane so important to us all, and deeply personal, especially to me.
Kitchen Exploits and The Pantry Project
Needless to say there has been a great deal of kitchen activity too.
Looking back on photographs this week to include in my blog I was taken aback to think we spent both St. Patrick’s Day and Easter Sunday on our own this year, without family or friends dropping in.
To mark St. Patrick’s day I made a decadent cake with Irish cream Liqueur. The evenings were still getting dark around 6 pm then. Lockdown spanned the end of winter, the joys of Spring and brought us smack into summer!.
We usually have family join us on Easter Sunday or there might be a cake sale or some activity in Killea connected to the school. But this year we once again spent the day on our own, cooking and baking , just for ourselves. We were delighted with our Easter cake, dotted with mini gold Easter eggs. I wanted the cake to coordinate with the glass wear we were using that day. I am not sure the rest of the family got that particular detail!!.
I decided a few days into lockdown that now was the time to crack the sourdough bread ‘problem’, so it was with delight that my first ‘proper sourdough loaf’ came from the oven one Sunday back in late March.
We have also made some delicious Naan breads and some new varieties of scones. Don has taken a more active interest in the kitchen since taking up Home Economics, so he has helped with many of these new recipes and is learning kitchen skills fast.
One of my first blogs was an interview with Brother Oliver, at Mount St. Joseph ‘s Roscrea in 2017. He was one of the Brothers who managed the bakery at the Monastery for decades. I thought a great deal about him in recent weeks . He passed away in November last year. Such a sweet and kind person, may he rest in Peace.
I am still working on developing one side of a small room off the dining room as our Pantry. I have such fond memories of my sister Mae’s late Mother-in-Law ‘Granny Quinn’ and her wonderful organizational skills – her boxes of buttons, her linen press and her packed Pantry off the living room at Rossestown.
Our Pantry will be a more humble space but since lockdown it has become a great resource to have. I am working to gather extra stocks of staples to have in store. I bought some lovely glass jars for storing my flours and pastas and this remains a project in process until we can build in some more shelves to the room.
Another positive aspect to this extraordinary time is that we are all more aware, I hope, of the importance of shopping less often, using left overs more resourcefully and avoiding unnecessary waste.
I have tremendous admiration for all those health care workers who have played such a brave role in this crisis, both in Ireland and internationally, for all the shop workers who turned up every day to work and must have had many anxieties about catching the illness or spreading it to one of their loved ones at home.
All frontline workers deserved the many rounds of applause and lights lit to support them. We participated in the “Shine a light” on Holy Saturday night (11th April) when we turned on all the lights around the house at 9pm, as part of a Nationwide mark of respect for the incredible courage, dedication and effort front line workers have shown.
As Joseph is under strict instruction to ‘cocoon’ because he is on immunosuppressants, I took over the shopping routine and have been so impressed at how kind and helpful staff in stores like Centra, Spar, Lidl, Supervalu, Aldi, Tesco and Dunne’s Stores have been. And small local shops and chemists who remained open during this time. Covid 19 brought out the best in so many people, with more respect and care being shown by everyone towards each other.
A Liminal conclusion
This remains a really hard time for so many – in particular those who are living alone and can’t see their family as they would wish. We have to hope this liminal phase will soon pass and people can interact again more freely.
So my blog is really a big thank you to all those people who have made it easier for others to survive these past weeks, and to my three sons, for making our days here at Greenville so much brighter by their activities , chatter (occasional rows!) but in general good humour. I love this picture of them taken outside the front of the cottage, our threshold, squinting in the mid afternoon sun.
Étienne keeps asking ‘will Covid 19 be over in September Mama?’. The truth is, none of us really know. I refuse to be exact in responding to him.
The world has come to a threshold, a place ‘inbetween’. And by its very nature that means everything is unclear…inexact.
I hear the lines of the late Eavan Boland from her wonderful poem ‘Quarantine’ in my mind . I invert her meaning of a love story from the Irish Famine, to fit the story of Covid 19….
‘Let no love poem ever come to this threshold
There is no place here for the inexact..’