December has been a very tough month this year. You might have fathomed that from my lack of posts. I have been trying just to make it to the end of term. Did I make it? No, not really. I was ill and had another negative COVID test, and then back to work for the last week and a bit, only to scald my face quite badly on the Wednesday and have to stay home on the last day of term, after a visit to Accident and Emergency. Not that it made any difference, since I received a phone call from the Assistant Head telling me not to come into school on the Friday because one of the students I taught had tested positive, our first confirmed case in school. They needed to double check protocols with Public Health England. It seems to change regularly. Since then, another two students and some teachers have tested positive too. It is easy to complain and make a list of all the negatives, but suffice to say, December has been tough, for lots of reasons.
I have been watching Peaky Blinders on DVD box set throughout this month…maybe I should nickname it “Bleaky Blinders”. It is dark. Since watching TV is one of my amber, desires – it tips over into inordinate desire and obsessiveness all too easily, my Spiritual director encourages me to notice what I am drawn to watch and why. What is it that draws me? Where is it coming from? and where is it leading to? All good discernment questions. If you know the series, you might recognise in the title for this post, the words the brothers are committed to saying at the point of death.
So, here is what I notice. I watch a lot of Films/Box sets when I am ill, stressed or exhausted. I have been all of these, all throughout this long, long month. When my head is caving in and my body is just fighting to do what I need to do, and crash when there is no necessity or even option. My head becomes a swirly place to be, and the escapism offers some relief from the constant noise. You may know what I mean.
I am drawn to complicated characters that demonstrate moral ambiguity. Tommy Shelby might indeed be a violent gangster, but he also has admirable qualities and vulnerabilities: he shows tenderness and is clearly tortured by his experiences of the First World war. What would he have been without that desolating experience? The most recent episodes I watched described a charming young man with a desire to change the world for the better. A different man came back from the war, and is still fighting it. He knows no peace and falls apart when his circumstances and environment are peaceful. I am not recommending Peaky Blinders here, I am noticing my response.
I also notice the feeling of restlessness and the impulse to turn it off. Is that the nature of the drama itself or the process of watching too much TV? Or both?
When I did turn it off a couple of evenings before Christmas, I put up my Christmas tree and played carols, I had to stop for about five minutes and cry. So many of the baubles bring with them their own memories of different Christmasses past. When I became a single parent, I bought a set of very cheap baubles for that first Christmas alone with my children, and we bought only two elaborate baubles that they each got to choose one. We did that every year, gradually replacing the cheaper ones, so that now it is an eclectic mix. They are not inclined ot put up the tree anymore, and because of Coronavirus, my friend did not come to stay this year: I decorated the tree on my own. It was a poignant experience, and moving.
Christmas has been quieter this year, not the huge pomp and ceremony as usual. It has been trimmed back. And yet, in the middle of this winter, where perhaps we still have as much to go through as we have aready been through, there is the cosiness of finding a safe place and hunkering down, in spite of the odds. It may be survival mode and if there is survival, there is life and recovery is possible. In the centre of this hard place, there is a light and hope: it is this truth that hit me while I was decorating my Christmas tree. As always, when we remember to look for the presence of God, He is to be found, no matter how long or bleak the winter.