As the present pandemic ‘lockdown’ continues apace and the days turn into weeks and then into months, I find myself remembering times past when life seemed so much simpler and communicating with others meant talking in person, writing a letter or using a phone. Upon deeper reflection, reality creeps in and reminds me that life in the late 70’s and early 80’s had challenges of its own. However, for me the 70’s brought an amazing change to my personal, professional and spiritual life.
Even as I write my mind, heart and emotions carry me to Bonjongo, a small hamlet-like settlement situated on the lower slopes of a volcano in Cameroon, West Africa.
Life suddenly became much less complicated. I discovered that it is the small things that bring fulfilment and happiness- the walk up the local hill on a Sunday morning to attend Mass in an ancient church, the joy of having electricity from 6pm-9pm every evening, the happiness experienced when a monthly letter from home arrived. The gift of a postage stamp was greeted with the same enthusiasm as would normally be reserved for a voucher of £100.
What surprised me was that I did not miss the things which had in my other life had seemed so important to survival-television, shopping, travel, cinema and theatre. These were replaced by the weekly visit by jeep to the local market, the joy of buying and gutting fish, a letter received, listening to rain as it travelled over the forests and hit the tin roofs of the local houses. Rain which brought life and hope to all concerned. The small kindnesses shown by the local villagers who presented a chicken as a welcome gift. Only later did I learn that the villagers only ate chicken at Christmas. Their gift was truly humbling.
This lockdown gives us all the opportunity to reflect and consider what is truly important in life. Materialism and consumerism have taken a back seat in our list of priorities. Gone are the desires to have the latest fashions, jewellery, shoes- gone are the desires to have the latest cruise, the most expensive holiday and in its place we hear talk of – ‘it would be great to have a cup of coffee together’ ‘ to go for a swim’ ‘ to talk to family and friends face to face’. It is almost as if the pandemic has jolted our mindset and reminded us of what is truly important. Today, prayer and the nurturing of spiritual life are high on the list of priorities for many. You only have to look at the viewing figures for church ‘attendances’ online to realise that priorities have changed.
The pandemic has given us a wonderful opportunity to turn the negativity of lockdown into a positive experience, to take a ‘step back’, to re-evaluate – our lifestyle, our relationships with others, our relationship with Jesus. Everything else is transitory, without substance, without depth, without longevity- only belief and faith in God will sustain us in time to come. The words of Romans 12:2 put it like this, each of us must live by the tenet, not (to) conform any longer to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God-what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect.
Mary O Boyle is the Post Primary Advisor in the Diocese of Derry. Mary taught in Saint Mary’s College Derry, for almost thirty-eight years, during which she took a sabbatical for two years and taught in a post primary technical college in Cameroon, West Africa.