The deeper we get into ‘lockdown’ here in the UK the more I am noticing abundance in my neighbourhood and with my neighbours. We are at the end of week 5 of lockdown, and during this time I have been blessed with an opportunity to slow down a little. Restricted in many ways from the patterns of life I am used to. Pre-Covid 19 life was noisy, busy, bustling, hectic and filled with social contact and gatherings. I found an abundance in this experience of community life (and hopefully will re-find it at some stage soon). But in this current slowness, I believe the Covid-19 pandemic is shining a light upon a much deeper understanding of abundant life and a deeper awareness of the abundance in our community.
The slowness has meant being able to pay more attention to my neighbours and my neighbourhood in different ways. It’s having time for longer and slower walks, longer phone calls, conversations on a drive or over the fence, zoom video-call conversations, and observing social media. I have found myself increasingly supressing my desire for activism (although this has arisen!) and wanting to be more attentive to what is emerging and happening on my doorstep, and the doorsteps around my neighbourhood. Many stories have emerged over the past few weeks, and here is a flavour:
When a request went out by a local nurse for posters to put up in a ward a local hospital, the response was astounding with posters from all ages showing gratitude, love and care.
When a neighbour wanted to express gratitude, with a couple of neighbours they dug and planted 3 flower beds spelling NHS.
When a table and chairs are found in the local Bluebell woods there is an astounding response by people using their skills, passion and creativity to make activities for children to do and find ways to show gratitude. This inspired a tree house, multiple rope swings, a chalk drawn hopscotch, fairy gardens, and much more to spot as more and more people take their daily walk through the woods.
When someone sees a neighbour struggling with a pushchair on a flooded path, gets their tools and quietly gives a day to fix it.
When someone who receives a food parcel has more than they need is helped to find neighbours in their block to share it with, including sending onions up 8 floors in a lift (the image of the onions in a lift did made be chuckle!).
When resources are focused, partnerships and relationships are formed to deliver food packages and meals to people and families, not delivered by a stranger.
These are some of the many stories of kindness, generosity, concern, support, care, compassion, love, and friendliness which I feel are illuminating and revealing an abundance in our neighbourhood and in our neighbours. But what has struck me about these stories has been the encounters that have occurred, mutual encounters where people are being present in each other’s lives.
The ask for posters meant an anonymous key worker is now a fellow neighbour who people wanted to thank personally
The NHS flower bed has led to people walking past and acknowledging the time, effort and care taken, a feeling that we are lifting each other up
When the neighbours who exchanged onions now call each other to check in, starting a new friendship
The tree house and table in the Bluebell woods has led to a shared experience and a communal space for this time when we are physically apart. It has led to (safe distance) conversations between people (both friends and strangers) on the walk as they pass each other, and on social media as they share what has been found.
The path being fixed by a neighbour led to a conversation, a personal thank you, and validation of skills and time given for others.
When the delivery of food leads to regular encounters, conversations, a sharing of games, puzzles, books, seeds, flowers, generous donations of cash or offers of help in return. This pays attention to our need to be more than just fed, to a need for companionship, friendship, shared loves, joys and interests.
When I ask people ‘what are you valuing at this time?’ again and again it has been the encounters with others and the experience of abundance. It has been a reminder of what matters the most, and that has been each other, and the times when someone has made the effort to show they care, and when people have used what they have and realised they are enough.
I believe these encounters are people encountering community life and experiencing the abundance present there. In my experience, when people have these encounters they do not say it feels strange or alien. They say this is how we should act, how life should be, and what it is to be community.
I this feel time is teaching me an important lesson for my role as a ‘community builder’ and how I should be present. The importance of spending time noticing and not just doing. A call to pay more attention to the abundance already present, a desire to unearth it, experience it, embrace it, illuminate it and seek to learn from it. That doing so is a profound act of involvement, engagement, participation and activism. Maybe those leaders busy organising or trying to re-imagine activity on Zoom, WhatsApp, Facebook live or whatever other means of ‘carrying on as normal’, could see their ‘role’ as a stepping back, to enable a stepping forward to take notice of their neighbourhoods, their communities, and their neighbours.
As talk of an easing of lockdown measures continue and a light is emerging at the end of the tunnel, I am wanting to hold onto this time and wanting to find ways (alongside my neighbours) to continue to discover, notice and learn. To find a way to not rush to return to normal life, but together we seek to unearth a new-normal.