I have been troubled this week thinking about the psychological effects of shielding.
In the present context, shielding of the vulnerable is meant to be protection against the Coronavirus and the risk of death. I may not be in the category of most vulnerable but the advice to over seventies is to stay at home. In many ways this has been a positive experience. It has not meant a great difference from my normal way of life. Though visits to shops, theatres and so on have stopped, we still have food deliveries, can watch plays and films at home and I can go to the allotment and get exercise and fresh air.
It is the mental consequences of shielding that are beginning to concern me. Does it mean that because I am shielded I cannot do anything good? Can I only applaud the key workers on a Thursday and do nothing more? Am I helpless in the face of growing famine in parts of Africa because of the Coronavirus? The effects of war and the climate crises continue and am I impotent to do anything about that?
More insidiously, am I forgetting the real world? Am I losing my compassion by focussing on the growth of my plants, or filling my time with reading or exercising, or doing Trustee administration? Is the ‘shield’ becoming a cloak of unfeeling?
Globally, we are very aware of our mortality at the moment. Infection and death rates feature in every edition of our newspaper. News from Quakers in Africa is harrowing, with reports of lack of protective equipment, medicines and food. Christian Aid too is appealing for emergency donations, and not just because it is Christian Aid week. I found myself thinking about the four horsemen of the apocalypse mentioned in Revelation and in Zechariah and Ezekiel. Plague, famine, war and death are often the characteristics given to them. Some would have us believe these are punishments from God, but that I refuse to countenance.
Immortality is not something I would desire. Death is natural, we cannot be shielded from it. But each death is a loss to us, and being separated from those we love at that moment makes it harder to bear. I feel for those who minister to the bereaved at the moment. And that has also made me reflect on being retired. Is this a form of shielding too?
It is lovely to be cared for and to know that those around us are seeking to protect us. And I know I can do somethings, even if only small acts of kindness. I too must protect others and find ways of being positive about shielding.