Tie on: COVID, conflict, resistance and resilience

A few weeks ago, when we were a few weeks into lockdown here in the UK, I had a text conversation with my friend Amy, the wisest wise woman I know. Because I’m one of those people who texts like machine-gun fire and neglects punctuation, I’m including Amy’s original message (with her consent), and then I’ve compiled and punctuated my rambling responses, as well as editing out the “mhmm”s and “EXACTLY!”s, for reading ease.

A: You know Gill, I’ve been on my phone all day with women. I’m wondering if there is something going on in the universe about conflict and resolution.  I mean that.. all day with issues and troubles and resolutions

I think that this global situation we find ourselves in is unprecedented because suddenly, everywhere, we are no longer living in a linear time of certainty. We are in a liminal mutable space, and that does not sit well with our socially accepted non-cyclical linear progression where we go day to day to day moving along – we are having to become used to ebbing and flowing.  And women do that a lot more easily, I think, because we can be less target driven – we have to adapt more. We are the moms and the listeners and the people who have to scramble the family (and community?) along.

We are all kind of mothering each other at the moment – well us listeners are; we are listening and ebbing and flowing, and pulling each other along and finding a lot of strength in our fellow paddler-alongers.  But it’s tiring because there are a LOT of people who are desperately trying to cling on to something that’s not there any more…so, OK, it’s like this:

Let’s get on our boats and be paddling .  There’s a lot of us paddlers, and our boats are tied together. We tie each other on, and we go in a group in whatever direction the tide takes.  None of us know what exactly is going to happen, but we know we can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing, so we hold on to each other and share the watch. But there are so many people DESPERATELY trying to swim in one direction, and hold onto the riverbank.  And the riverbank- it is not there. The tide now comes in all directions.  We have to look in all the directions and go together and hold on.

I am a reluctant paddler but I’m getting better because I see all my other paddlers coming and tying our dinghies together so we don’t blow away.

We’ve all been jettisoned out to sea, haven’t we – that’s what it is. We’ve spent all our lives trundling along the neat waterways that we can move along in nice straight lines going from A to B to C and all of a sudden we are all in the fucking sea with no shores in sight! GOODBYE RIVERBANK!

I been thinking about it a lot these last few weeks to be honest. About how we are and have been in this state of not-knowing, and how to we adapt to that to make it bearable? How?

It’s just easier to try and ride it out even if you’re scared, because I think we all are, a bit, but I think the panic is lifting as some folks learn to bob and then hold others so they can learn as well. I’ve been talking to my students a lot you know [I work with neurodiverse young adults, some of whom have learning difficulties and disabilities], and a lot of these very rigid thinkers are bobbing.  Just forcing themselves to take a big breath and bob a bit and say okay: I’m alive and I can see other people doing this not too far away.  Let’s bob towards them, I’m not drowning, I’ve got it!

The thing is, we don’t know how long this will go on.  What we do know is that even the virus isn’t linear. It comes in waves, and it’s evolving all the time. We can’t just power our way through in a straight line – we have got to be flexible, all of us, and it’s going to be really hard because we have built our empire on going in a line.  And at the moment it’s like the line’s been rubbed out, and some of the destinations aren’t where we left them. If ever there was a time for everyone to step up and show each other the way, it’s now. Everyone has something to offer in this new landscape, and it’s all valuable – we need to start recognising the things we can offer each other, and honouring the power of diverse communities.