Finding the Joy in the Little Things

The one-year anniversary of Ireland’s first COVID induced lockdown has passed, and many people have taken a moment to reflect on what has been largely the most challenging and life-altering years of their lives. The chaos and uncertainty of March 2020 melted into a haze of banana bread, Netflix true crime documentaries, TikTok dances and general boredom.

From there, we collectively rediscovered the beauty of our lovely island, with city dwellers swapping exotic beach holidays for campervans in Ireland’s west coast and a never-ending slew of Instagram stories from pilgrims of Croagh Patrick, surfers in Lahinch and cold-water swimmers from across the country.

We flocked to our parks, watching the leaves change with each daily walk, gasping with joy on our daily walks at the sight of the magpies returning with twigs in tow to build their nests for another season. We were forced to rewire our social lives, moving from the pub to the Zoom waiting room, homemade cocktail and Kahoot quiz in hand. 

We adapted and persevered to this ‘new normal’, attending college lectures online and watching in awe as our frontline workers battled tirelessly on the front line of this new frontier. 

Humans are remarkable at overcoming adversity, and while we have found ways to cope amidst the waves of grief and fear, many of us feel the pangs of loss for the little things we took for granted in another life. As I stare out of my windows at the prospect of another day in lockdown, I often find my mind thinking about what I would give to see my friends and family together again.

To feel the pressure of a crowded pub, pint in hand, packed in with strangers with whom you end the night singing The Auld Triangle and never see again. To visit your favourite shops, mindlessly brushing against the new arrivals without real rhyme nor reason as to what you might pick up. To hug your grandparents, tight. To the gym. To the bakery. To the feeling of a fresh haircut, constantly touching your silky locks and catching glimpses of yourself in passing shop windows. 

To dinners with friends, indoors, belly laughing over inside jokes. To dark cinemas, silent galleries and vast libraries. To holding hands, to hugs, to singing until your voice gives out in the middle of a thousand fellow fans, swaying in unison to the notes of your favourite song. To normality. To life as I knew it. 

When I find myself dwelling on what I perceive to have lost to the pandemic, I force myself to stop and to remain positive. The greatest silver lining offered by the dark clouds of this year have been the chance to find joy in the little things we do have. We may not have beaches in Tenerife, but we have beautiful fields and landscapes to lose ourselves in. We have ice creams on warm days, and the most beautiful beaches in the world. 

We may not be able to travel, but we can discover the secrets of our own localities, taking routes we’ve never given ourselves time to travel down and smiling at our fellow walkers on the daily trip around the park. We have birdsong and warmer evenings, and the end of the longest winter in memory. 

We have the world’s library at our fingertips, with the time to finally read that book or write that short story. We have humour, and love, and strength, and endurance. We have music and poetry. We have communities of people online sharing videos of their grandparents getting vaccinated. We’re getting there, slowly but surely.

One year on, the greatest lesson that I have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic is that we can’t control what happens to us in life, but we can control our reaction to it. If we choose to focus on the negative elements of what lockdown has taken from us, we will lose out on the chance to appreciate the beauty and wonder of the world beyond life’s distractions. In Emily Dickenson’s immortal words; 

“Hope” is the thing with feathers – 

That perches in the soul -

And sings the tune without the words -

And never stops - at all –

The human propensity for hope is endless, and while it may not seem likely now, this too shall pass. Hope burns in the heaviest of storms, holding our spirits intact in the knowledge that one day life will return to normal. Until then, the changing leaves are good enough for me.