Thousands of years ago a glacier melted and deposited the Norber Erratics. Time and erosion then exposed these cuckoo slabs of sandstone and slate. High above the lush farmland of Austwick the vast boulders teeter on tiny limestone plinths. They are one of many examples of the way defining natural events in one era can shape our landscape for millennia.
My visit to the erratics comes at a point of psychological and spiritual recovery. As with many others working in areas massively impacted by COVID-19, events since March altered normal patterns of life. For about 100 days I woke everyday between 4 and 5 am. In the crisis of coronavirus this was part of how life was, in what the British Psychological Society call the active phase. The unbroken days of being in a state perhaps best described as ‘ready alert’; living in a rapidly changing situation, with frequent and sometimes contradictory information, and the need for instant response and action.
Like countless others caught up in these events the virus stimulated emotional need while simultaneously denying consolation. People have been bereaved – but unable to hug; families traumatised but unable to meet; prayer sought, but the faithful denied the opportunity to worship together. Prayer can take place anywhere, but there are places of spiritual significance that matter to many, and sometimes we want to sit among those who pray when we feel least able to pray ourselves.
prayer is more than an order of words, the conscious occupation Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.Eliot, T. S. (1944). Little Gidding. Four Quartets. Collected Poems 1909–1962.
I walked to the erratics during a couple of days away. That should sound a very unsurprising sentence – except that I haven’t stayed away from home for several months and the novelty of the experience, face masks and all, was striking.
Events come in different shapes and sizes. Sometimes they may bring temporary change, like the tug of a breeze on the boughs of a tree. However, if there is a prevailing wind – if the gusts are more often a gale – then nature’s persistence has lasting consequences. It’s something I think of every time I walk from Whitby to Staithes and see the long suffering thorns. Over the years they have been sculpted by the wind into flame-like shapes, their branches drawn out towards the sea.
COVID-19 is a long way from its conclusion. It is a gale that has blown around the globe with astonishing speed, leaving devastated communities and economies in its wake. Already we know that this is more than a troubling breeze. The consequences for individuals, societies and economies will be part of our landscape for decades to come. At the moment it’s hard to discern what new shapes are forming. Only time will tell, but we all have something to offer as we support each other through this storm. Consolations may be interrupted, but the desire for the good of those around has never been stronger. Perhaps we need, now more than ever, to make the effort to communicate that care – in whatever way we can.