I have struggled with anxiety since the Covid restrictions have been lifted
Now that we're free, let's remember heroes of the pandemic
I DIDN'T realise how anxious I was until the restrictions were gone.
This week I'm finding it even more difficult to cope with, or should I say process, my ever-present anxiety.
I definitely need to take time to think about it and examine just how my life and my values have changed - whether I like it or not.
We have been living on our nerves for two years now. For me, I'm not even sure whether we should be as free as we are.
That's natural as I suppose. But let's begin by accepting the opportunity given to us now and enjoying it anyway.
Make the best of it and stop worrying.
I feel a bit like a young calf which has been locked up for the winter and now that I'm finally out, the light is blinding me and I'm kicking up my heels like a mad thing I'll get used to it.
Seamus Heaney, as always, has the right words: "IF WE CAN WINTER THIS ONE OUT, WE CAN SUMMER ANYWHERE."
It's surely time for us to summer in any and every way we can. We have earned it.
After isolations and lockdowns I know I need to accept freedom with maturity and enthusiasm.
I believe we should celebrate with joy and gratitude any gift God sends us, even in these most unusual circumstances.
We never know what is ahead of us. There is no guarantee that the virus will go quietly. We can only hope and pray - and enjoy the moment given to us.
But while we are celebrating with joy and gratitude perhaps we should also take time to think of families nearer home who will never get over what they had to endure.
There are countless families who have lost loved ones and dear companions in the most awful circumstances.
Think of all the frightened people who had no loved ones or family members with them as they faced a difficult death alone in hospitals.
Think of the nurses, doctors and frontline workers who had to help dying people whom they didn't know and for whom there was no cure.
They witnessed death on a daily basis unprepared for such specialised hospice care.
Those are some of the people who will need help. Grief takes its toll. Don't underestimate the consequences.
Think of the funerals with only a handful of mourners. In some extreme cases, the unfortunate deceased person was left lying in a hearse outside the church door. There was no need for such nonsense and those families deserve an apology.
As a priest I'm still riddled with guilt about all the things I couldn't do because of my age and because of regulations and isolations.
I will never be at peace about that. Remember there were two St Patrick's days with both churches and pubs locked up! And Christmas wasn't much better.
Think of the families who could not meet; the hugs we couldn't have, the handshakes which turned into elbows; the awful Zoom calls which were better than nothing - now we really know the virtual world is not the real world.
Think of grandparents who couldn't meet or visit their families.
Think of the children who missed out on school, friendships, college life, companionship and relationships. Think of all the people who were put out of work - entertainers, hospitality and businesses to mention but a few.
Last weekend I suppose we needed a break.
We can only take so much. If we hadn't been set free we'd have jumped the wall anyway. We had endured more isolation than is healthy. It will be a long time before we're emotionally adjusted.
This week I went to Knock to reflect and renew my spirit.
I walked and prayed and thanked God for scientists, the medical profession in all its facets, teachers, politicians, retail workers and the silent army of carers who were the glue that held society together for two years.
When I came home I deleted Zoom. No doubt I'll download it again but for the present it was healing just to dump the damned thing.
As much of society fragmented there were still many marvellous people who made heroic contributions to our survival.
Now that we're free, let's remember them with pride and gratitude. We should not move on with our selfish lives as if nothing happened. That would be ungrateful and the ultimate waste of a good crisis.
Let's take time to reflect on what happened and the effect it will have on our lives - personally as individuals, but as family and as community as well.
We should appreciate all the things we once took for granted like Masses, prayers, funerals, entertainment, sport, visits and simple things like handshakes, cups of coffee and pints against the bar.
So take time to reflect and to ask yourself a few questions.
I believe good questions are more helpful than right answers. It's what Jesus did in the Gospels. Jesus asked and answered questions as a way of getting us to really reflect on the meaning of life.
Researchers tell me that Jesus answered 113 questions.
Fifty two of them of them were questions he asked and answered himself; important questions like "What do you want?" "Who do you say I am?" "Do you want to be healed?" "What is truth?"
So take time to ask questions of yourself and one another. How have I changed? What have I learned about myself? What did I learn about work/life balance? How will I live differently from now on?
By coincidence, the founder of reflection techniques died last weekend. That was Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk from Vietnam. He was 95. His teachings really did change the world.
Mindfulness is the 'in' thing now. There are many forms of mindfulness but basically it is described as getting in touch with, and living in, the present moment.
He left us this thought shortly before he died: "Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realise that right now we are OK.
Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvellously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones."
Take time to appreciate the life we have.
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