Feeling my foot slip I cried out in shock. The sound, loud even against the crashing waves, caused my son to look up, open-mouthed. ‘Woo ok mummy?’ he enquired, concerned. My head swimming but my body steady, I tried to quell the quaver in my voice ‘Yes sweetheart, I’m fine’. Accepting this lie, he went back to playing on the beach below.
I paused for a moment, leaning back against the rock, whose dark form was sculpted smooth by the force of Atlantic gales. Spring was slowly making its presence known. Small patches of green interrupt the brown expanse of the hill and in the shelter of crumbling stone walls, nettles and flowers have begun to emerge. Starlings, their colours incandescent in the sun, sing and squabble, as they choose places to build their nests. I reached for the piece of driftwood that was wedged in a crevice, thrown up by a storm. Securing it under my arm, I began my decent with care, avoiding slippery patches of moss and lichen. The wind blew, ever present, eternal. It was a day like any other, yet everything felt different.
From the very first reports of a new virus in China I was concerned. Anxiety is not new to me, but I function, mostly. Global pandemics however have always been a particular fear, lurking in the shadows and haunting my dreams. I can still clearly remember news reports from 2006. The image of a dead swan, people in hazmat suits and large print proclaiming that deadly bird flu had arrived on our shores. I read, and re-read, every article I could find, reassuring myself that this was unlikely, at least for now, to infect many people. Yet to this day, while out and about, if I touch a feather, or something that I think may have been touched by a feather, I cannot touch anything else until I wash my hands. Anything I do touch I consider contaminated. Maybe I can only class myself as functioning because I rarely admit these things out loud.
I am scared by the news but can’t look away. Stories of coronavirus exponential spread, multiple deaths and overwhelmed hospitals turning folk away. I fear for the health of friends and family. I am simultaneously relieved by drastic measures to stop the virus but increasingly anxious that the global seriousness of the situation requires such steps. Almost overnight our family’s future income disappeared and as yet there is no government support for self employed people in rented accommodation. My throat tightens. It is hard to breath.
Triumphant, my son placed three small sticks into my hand ‘more wood, mummy’ he smiled. I congratulated him on a job well done and we walked over to the small woodpile above the high tide line. Once placed in this manner, driftwood is yours to take and use. In these uncertain times, this precious resource could mean the difference between heating our home or not. As I stacked the wood, I made sure to leave some on the shore, as another pile indicates others gather from this beach. I filled a bag with rubbish blown in on a storm, telling my son that as we take something we need to give. Adapting, sharing, helping and hoping, this is the only way we can survive today and contribute to tomorrow.