I was considering the effects of the last eighteen months or so on all of humanity when the opening lines of the Dylan Thomas poem sprang to mind. However, unlike Mr Thomas’ plea to his dying father, I feel diametrically opposed. I urge you to go gently into this new night. Never in my lifetime have I seen the need as I do now for all of us to extend compassion, kindness and care as we start to emerge from isolation.
As the non-prophet Bryan says in the Monty Python classic, “You are all individuals!”. I would like you, dear readers, to bear this in mind as you re-enter into a busy world having experienced various types of seclusion. Some of you may be chomping at the bit to be surrounded by people and flit from one social engagement to another like the bright and beautiful social butterflies that you are. Others may be warier. For all sorts of reasons.
I have encountered a surprising number of people who have actually enjoyed retreating from an increasingly hectic world over the last year or so. I for one have taken great pleasure in reacquainting myself with some of my favourite Russian novels. I have languidly relished literature in a way I haven’t done since my youth. And it has been marvellous. I have a dear friend who often tells me “Benjamin darling, you are indeed a rare herb”. But on this particular matter, I am not alone. Many people have seen this time as a chance to reflect wisely on what social interaction really means to them, and on what terms their friendships are based.
I was shocked to discover that one of the people closest to me is unhappy about the number of pages filling up in their diary recently. I have always known them to be one of the most gregarious and outgoing people I know. And that has not changed. But spending time alone, or only with their family, has meant that they have come to realise how superficial some of their friendships are. They are in no rush to spend night after night chatting nonsense with people they haven’t connected with in months. Their words, not mine.
As I said at the beginning, there may be multiple reasons for people not wanting to be surrounded by others. Someone you know may be desperate to get out of the house and engage in the thrill of being with those they love but may be cautious for health reasons. Certain people are very private regarding health matters. I am not one myself, as anyone who knows me will testify. I will happily chat to any old dear about my corns while waiting for a bus in Valletta. But I appreciate not everyone feels the same. Do not assume the friend who politely turns down an invitation for a gathering in your home has done so because they do not want to be there. They may be afraid on health grounds but reticent to tell you.
This brings me back to individuality. We often assume those we know well hold similar views to us. But sometimes nothing could be further from the truth. In a world divided by politics, religious beliefs and cultural differences, we now have a new kid on the block to separate us. The vaccine. Not everyone will have the same view as you. And they may not want to have to justify their stance. If you are worried about your own safety, do not assume that everybody thinks like you and take the precautions that you feel are appropriate. Your health is the most important thing you have. Guard it well. But do not let it alter close relationships. In the coming months, we need to be gentle with each other as we renegotiate the world in which we live. Compassion, as always is the key. Tread carefully and wisely and think of others as you live a life that is authentic to you, but one that appreciates the wonderful diversity of this strange and beautiful planet on which we appear for such a brief time.