If you came into this thinking that title could be a play on words, you would be 100% correct. Yes, I have indeed been learning in a pandemic, but I have also been learning – so, so much. Learning patience and tolerance, forgiveness and what really matters, generosity and a will to bend myself into different directions with a new found ease. The speed at which tempers can flare and trying on irritation for size that feels like an overly tight pair of trousers that you don’t want to keep, but just can’t let go of … and let us never, ever forget the unlearning, new roads to travel, new people to meet and minds being opened wide.
Much like an essay, I have learned in three parts: a beginning, a middle, an end. Let me begin at the beginning…
One week before official lockdown began we had a family emergency. The kind of family emergency where the only conclusion is an end. Hours, days, time lost all meaning as we waited, riding the rollercoaster of emotions – will this be the day, the night, will tomorrow be the end? As everyone else eased into a new way of being we were quietly doing our best to not fall apart at the seams. Patience and compassion our watchwords, a gentle touch the key to silent communications. Staring into space for hours on end willing something, anything to happen that would cause a shift, a change in direction – the beginning by far presented the hardest of lessons … and yet has had the happiest of conclusions. An incorrect diagnosis brought us to a very different result, one which we never would have expected – maybe the real lesson to take here is that our oldies are well and truly resilient and they can and will overcome!
By the middle, as the initial worries started to ease, the pandemic learning was next to start. When you work in local government communications as I do, you think you’ve seen it all (and read it all in the comments section!) but trust me when I say, you’ve truly seen nothing until you’ve worked through a global pandemic. Suddenly your voice is one of reason, informative and useful, people look to you for answers. They return with kindness, care, grateful for your words, your reassurance, a friendly voice in the face of absolute uncertainty. Strangers wishing each other well, pleas to take care, be safe, look after yourself, signing off comments and messages with kisses and the prayer hands emoji – it almost felt, for a fleeting moment, like people were re-learning how to be human, kind, considerate … it didn’t last. Am I surprised? Sadly, no. Does it matter? Also no. The lessons to take away from it are more important.
The lessons in listening, really listening, have proved vital and have given me a new sense of feeling. Seeing through, what looks to most like a flippant comment, to the loneliness, the sadness, a realisation that this conversation might be the only one happening on that day and it’s being lived out online and with total strangers. A new understanding that no matter what the words might be in front of my eyes, none of it should be taken personally, it shouldn’t be granted the time to sit with me for any longer than it takes to read, decide an action and move on. This time, this ‘unprecedented’ time has given way to so many new thoughts, feelings, actions and I can hardly keep up.
And what about the lessons that had to be learned at warp speed about the new way of life, of only being in your own space, living, working, every waking moment spent inside four walls with just the briefest of glimpse of outdoors for an hour a day. The funny times when my husband realised what my daily grind looks like and exactly how many swear words I actually know, the sad times when it all just got too much and an email, probably sent in haste, tipped me over the edge into tears over work, the mediocre times when daily life just. kept. on. going. I feel like this section should sometimes have been known as skills to survive boredom – it’s an exam I think we would all be willing to take.
And then we come to the end. The actual learning, back to school. A short course in Counselling Skills, the main motivation to learn but also to give me knowledge and understanding to help my loved ones through some difficult times. Six hours a week, for four weeks, entirely online, listening and speaking to people through computers, being thrown into break-out rooms where small groups can participate in practical sessions, filling up my brain with words and knowledge, understanding of what I can do to actually help – how to actively listen and essentially just be the listening ear. It’s been intense, I’ve sometimes felt like giving up, my attention has drifted more than once but overall, it’s been another bow to this year of learning.
And what a year. 2020 will for sure go down in the history books. And for me? My own personal history?
A time for empathy.
A time for reflection.
A time to grow.
I firmly believe that no matter how old we are, where we are in our lives, we should keep on learning. It doesn’t even matter what the lessons are, just that they continue. It helps us grow as people. It helps us grow as workers. But most of all, it helps us grow as humans. And who could really ask for more than that?