To set out with enthusiasm on any journey is a promising beginning. The Irish proverb puts it well: Tús maith, leath no hoibre. A good beginning is half the work. But, at a certain point, it’s no longer the beginning but the continuing that really counts. We’ve reached such a point in our efforts to combat Covid-19. We can be grateful for the major efforts made by the overwhelming majority of people to stay at home and abide by social distancing, hand hygiene, cocooning and self-isolation.
But now we know we have to keep at it. I’m sure we’ve smiled at the experience of children on a long journey who, beginning to feel restless, ask with exasperated frequency “are we there yet?” in the hope of somehow making the destination arrive. Perhaps all of us now have traces of this experience ourselves. The Covid-19 virus won’t disappear by magic. It really requires our sustained effort. I think of a line in the Gospel that might help us: By your patient endurance, you will gain your lives. (Lk 21:19)
Endurance is not giving into the temptation to relax things a little, or make small compromises, or take little risks. Let “patient endurance” be a motto for us any time we feel our resolve flagging.
But as we are on a collective journey, with daily news updates and much media coverage, for which we can be very grateful, might it also be a moment when we can engage, just like on a long journey, in a chat together about what it is we are noticing on this journey. It could be an expression of another Irish proverb Giorraíon beirt bóthar, two people shorten a journey.
The day will come when we’ll be getting near the destination and our mind will be moving on to that and the considerable challenges facing us. This week we’ve seen already a little of what they will be like with the disappointing setback faced by those laid off in Debenham’s and by the many young students preparing for the Leaving Cert. But for now, it would be a good idea to drill down into the experience we are living through and ask – what are the insights and discoveries we are making that we would want to hold on to. It would be a pity if we had the experience and missed the meaning as TS Eliot put it The Four Quartets.
What is this experience saying to us about the scale of values we normally operate out of? From the perspective of today’s crisis, what have we realised about the hectic pace of ‘normal’ times and what we might consider doing differently in the future: the place of the older generations in society, the need to cultivate the inter-generational bond, the way we value services, including the more everyday ones, the focus on relationships to be treasured more deeply, family life, life and work balance, re-thinking political and economic, education and social systems, our leisure time…
I think also of the wonderful statement of community we have had through volunteer movements. ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ – the golden rule. And we are doing that now. But a flame has been reignited here over recent weeks. Let’s not forget this. Let’s not leave it behind. Let’s see if the structures working so brilliantly, not least here in Limerick with the Limerick COVID-19 Response, can be retained.
Yes, it is a difficult and unprecedented time for all of us. For the bereaved, it may be the worst of times. But for all that, there are elements and learnings we cannot leave behind.
This conversation might be an exercise in ’naming the signs of Resurrection’. The Coronavirus should not be allowed strike us in vain. Our combat shouldn’t just be about getting through all of this alive, important as that is. Hidden in this storm of threatening darkness are signs of Resurrection because out of this virus, if we name and own what’s deep-down going on within us at this time, a new world might be emerging. But we will need to take the time and effort and national conversation to talk together about this. It would be a pity to have been heroic at this time in adhering to restrictive measures but remained unreflectively on the sidelines of a significant moment in the march of history.
Yes, Tús maith, leath na hoibre. But it’s only half. Let’s make sure that having endured and reached our destination we will have noticed, named and noted what we’ve learned along the way.