April 15, 2020

The first in our new series of responses to the prompt cards from our resource Navigating with Kindness comes from writer and performer Bernadette Russell.

 

We asked Bernadette to consider the prompt “pay attention” (from the card pictured below). 

The "pay attention" card which is a picture of a magnifying glass hovering over the letters "CDE" of the alphabet, shown here against a dark blue background.

She came back with the following blog, which encourages us to pay attention to the good we can find in the world today, and to consider what the future might look like if we continue to pay attention to these seemingly small acts…


 

How To Be Hopeful (during a pandemic).

 

Hello you. I hope you are in good health. I hope you have enough company, food, entertainment, peace, excitement, soap, pasta and all the other things that you need to flourish in these strange times.

Thanks for taking a moment to read this. I’m aware that there are so many words everywhere, so many things to consider and think about, so much information and misinformation. I know that there is both lots of time and no time at all (yes COVID-19 has messed with time too, stretching it and shrinking it, bending days and nights out of shape, a sort of isolation jetlag). Many of us are busier than we have ever been, whilst others are looking for things to fill long hours with. So, thank you for your time.

I wanted to invite you to consider the future, as it is likely that we emerge into an entirely altered world and we can’t know yet what is going to happen by the time this has passed. This is an invitation to allow yourself to imagine that the version of the world we get when we come out is up to you. Yes you. Just allow yourself to think that could be true. What kind of world would you like that to be?

Many of us have lost work and income, have family working in the NHS and other frontline services, friends who are already ill or vulnerable, or are vulnerable ourselves. We need to acknowledge our grief, loss, pain, anger and sadness. As we stretch towards the light in the darkness, towards hope and towards a new world, I think it is important for us to note what we have lost and what we have gained too.

Today would have been my Nana’s 110th birthday. She was one of a family of 13 children. She lost brothers in battles during World War One who died before they were old enough to grow a beard. She lost more siblings and other family members in the between-wars flu pandemic, then the Second World War took more. By 1945 my Nana was one of just 3 children. My Nana suffered immense loss and lived through poverty I can’t really imagine. She never really spoke about it much; she didn’t want to. She did speak to me about the value of music, jokes, poetry, singing, kindness and parties. She also taught me the importance of gratitude and counting your blessings. As I think about my lovely brave Nana on her birthday, I realised that it may be time to reconsider what our real blessings are. That this time has given us all the opportunity to do so.

A few days ago, at 8pm, I stood outside my front door on Evelyn Street to join all my neighbours to cheer for and to thank the NHS. We were a bit shy at first, but then it was as if we all remembered that we all do this every year anyway, as we cheer on the marathon runners as they go past, as our patch is near the 8 mile mark. So, we know how to cheer, we are experts at group cheering in Deptford.

We can hear saucepan lids banging and whoops from the Pepys Estate opposite. Then my phone starts pinging, videos and images from other parts of Deptford , Lewisham, London, Kent, Hampshire, friends in Manchester, Birmingham, all over the UK. I wave to some neighbours and some shout hellos, but I can’t hear much above the cheering. I cry.

To tell the truth I’ve cried every day, at the sheer generosity and overwhelming wonderfulness of my fellow human beings. Every day we’ve added another thankyou note to the outside of the house until the wall is covered. So much gratitude on proud display.

Seven hand written signs giving thanks to the NHS and key workers, decorated with red hearts and stuck up on a brick wall.

On social media and on the news, people are praising other keyworkers too, the shop keepers, delivery drivers, post office staff, police officers, probation officers, social workers, cleaners, refuse collectors, teachers, carers, park keepers, firefighters etc. At last we have realised that these people are our true heroes.

Us city dwellers also praise the fresh air, the huge reduction in pollution, and having time to notice the beauty of spring.

But more than any of these small gifts given to us by this strange and traumatic time, people talk about kindness. In this world shaking, mind altering, consciousness shifting new world where toilet rolls and hand sanitiser are the punch lines of gags and the source of pride and anger, kindness is king.

Just before this, in the wake of the tragic death of lovely Caroline Flack, a journalist contacted me and said, “How do you feel now that kindness is fashionable?” and I said “Oh I don’t want kindness to be fashionable. I wanted it to be normal. I want unkindness to be strange, unusual, odd. I want forgiveness and love and being a good neighbour to just be what we do; I completely think that this is possible. I think it is possible because I see it every day. You can see it if you let yourself see it. You can contribute to it easily too, I think.”

She and I talked about kindness as a gift, the gift of a smile or a compliment or a cup of tea or an offer of help. In the last couple of weeks, I have read, seen, and witnessed countless gifts of kindnesses, a flood of them all over the world, and I have heard and seen people saying, “I want to help!”. We have all seen how much we yearn to help each other, to be of service, to reach out, to connect, even to sacrifice. We have seen how good we can be, how good we are.

Let’s make sure that we keep note of what gifts we have received and what we would like to keep hold of in the future. My list includes kindness of course , but also love, friendship, connection, community. What’s on yours?

I say let’s keep videos of people dancing wildly in their kitchens in daft wigs. Let’s keep shared poetry readings on Zoom for those who can’t leave the house. Let’s keep strangers sending each other hand made gifts through the post, let’s keep teenage boys delivering care packages to isolated older people, let’s keep asking each other “how are you?” and let’s keep wishing each other good health. Let’s keep thinking the best of each other, and offering to help, and giving time, energy and money to those who need it when we are able to. Let’s keep buying only what we need. Sharing what we have. Being quiet sometimes. Spending time in nature. Not judging ourselves or others. Forgiving ourselves and others. Doing what makes us happy and finding out what that is. Allowing ourselves to feel everything, including hope.

My Nana told me she didn’t take anything for granted after “the second war” and she didn’t waste anything, not “string or money or love”. That everything was treasured and appreciated. After the war her generation built the NHS and the welfare state. Let’s remember and consider that.

So, with chapped hands and full hearts we will travel through this time together, with acts of kindness and creativity, with brave hope and with awareness of what we have learned from this unique experience.

I doubt if we will be able to go back to “normal” and truthfully, I doubt any of us would want to. The old way wasn’t really working for many of us. This pandemic is our obsidian looking glass, in which we see our reflections, through a glass darkly. It shows us in all our glorious complexity, the light, the dark, the flaws, the strengths. It shows us the immense beauty of the world and the infinite creativity and capability of human beings.

Look around you. Look what we can do. Look how kind and inventive and funny and creative we are. We can do anything together. Imagine what a world we will make. Imagine our beautiful future.

Thankyou for your time x


 

Bernadette has a new podcast out now called “How To Be Hopeful”. Listen here.

  1. This was such a beautiful piece Bernadette, I am writing from South Wales and we are very happy to say for the last four years People United have been our partners at Tate. They have always lived their values and showered us with kindness and support, we love working with them.
    As I was reading this I thought I will share this with my team, a wonderful group of committed youth arts workers who are consistently loving and kind but will take so much from your message of hope. I will also share it with Anne our artists in residence at Valleys Kids who may have already had a chance to read this but just in case – she has been a wonderful support to me over the years. We are so lucky to live in a place with incredible community spirit , Nana’s are the backbone here along with Welsh Mam’s – I loved hearing about yours she sounds incredible. Thank you for writing such beautiful words.

    • Hi Miranda,
      Thanks so much for your comment and your kind words. We’ll make sure Bernadette sees it!
      Best wishes,
      The People United team

      People United (Author)

Leave a Reply to Miranda Balllin Cancel Reply