Updated: Feb 1, 2022
On the 9th March 2020 the church celebrated the Institution of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday in a very different way - as COVID-19 Lockdown overshadowed the world. In the following days, new meanings of Eucharist would be revealed to me through the ‘ordinary events of every day.’ On Easter Thursday I needed milk and decided to walk to the little local corner shop to buy it. Of course, I knew it would cost more but felt that it is important to support the ‘corner shop’ when we can as they do not have the profits of the large supermarkets. On a previous visit to this shop, I had asked the shopkeeper what the hours of opening are: 06.00 – 10pm, 7 days a week was his humble reply. This equates to 112 hours a week service to the local community so that he can earn a living. The few extra pence for a bottle of milk quickly gained perspective at a time when many small business were at risk of ‘going under’ due to ‘lockdown.’ There were no long queues outside his door, just a polite notice, ‘not more than 3 customers in the shop at any time, please.’ On my way to the shop, I met a little girl aged about 3 as she wobbled on her little bike, a protective father hovering in the background as he witnessed his daughter’s confidence grown with each turn of the wheels. The next thing that caught my eye was a box of chalks on a wall outside a house and a notice inviting all who passed by to ‘Colour a brick - this is how we build community, one brick at a time.’ I rummaged through the chalks and chose my favourite pink; every millimetre of ‘my brick’ was coloured in as I reflected on the generosity and simplicity of the homeowner who invited us to build community together. Chalking walls is often called graffiti, a criminal offence punishable by law. Here it was a community building exercise.
On my arrival in the shop I yielded to the temptation to buy a Snickers Ice cream, something I would not normally do but symptomatic of the grief that I felt at loosing many of my religious community to illness in recent days. Virtual requiem Masses helped to ease the sadness our Sisters and families felt but could not compensate for attendance at funeral liturgies….a sorrow shared by thousands across the world. Easter resurrection was taking on new meaning for all of us.
On route to the milk counter, a newspaper appeal from the local Seafarers Centre captured my attention. Seafarers who were many miles from home were trapped in port and needed basic supplies, toiletries, food and other goods. Lockdown regulations meant that they could not leave the port or attempt to return home as they would be quarantined in many ports across the world on route. On my return home I filled a little bag with ‘bottom drawer’ toiletries and confectionary usually reserved for the unexpected visitor. Many years earlier I had volunteered with the Apostleship of the Sea and listened to the challenges faced by these people every day. Now I wanted to offer a little something to these good people who supply our stores with basic essentials every day, the unsung heroes who cannot leave their boats to go for a walk. On my arrival at the Seafarers Centre I was overjoyed to witness the generosity of many who had responded to the newspaper and Facebook appeals for help. Speaking to the only member of staff present, he told me that when he had been on a ship earlier in the day, a gentleman had asked him for biscuits, and he had none to give. ‘I will now go and give him these.’
Lockdown has been hard for all, many have lost their lives, homes, jobs. However, there have also been calls to go deeper into our own souls, to grieve for all that is not right in our own hearts, to seek reconciliation with one another and our planet, to build community one brick at a time, to break Easter bread together and as one body to share in the life bestowed upon us by the Lord of the Resurrection – the God who in love oversees all of our lives on land and on sea. May all that we have learnt through this experience not be blown to the wind when ‘lockdown’ is over.
© Siobhan O’Keeffe 2020, all rights reserved