Prophets of doom
NEVER ask a novelist, “What’s the worst that can happen?” We will improvise increasing levels of personal catastrophe that will culminate in Armageddon and the end of the game for the human race, when all you do is think aloud about the arrival of the Gousto Box while you are away.
With our ridiculously over-trained imaginations, novelists make Chicken Licken look like a carefree optimist. Being wrong does not help us. Just because it was an acorn landing on our heads this time around, doesn’t mean the sky will fall tomorrow. Or a fox eating us – which, NB, is what happened to Chicken Licken. Who’s laughing now, huh?
I admit channeling Chicken Licken as we emerged into a world without Covid restrictions. In September, I attended a long-delayed banquet where everything combined to give me the impression of being on the deck of the Titanic. Everyone so happy! Small string quartets playing! Dramatic irony! But, over the days, then weeks, it turned out not to be the superpropagator event I had fatally predicted. Ah! But let’s wait and see what happens when schools, colleges and universities pick up again.
Well, we’re back to teaching on the Manchester Met campus, and tens of thousands of students have returned to the city. I was sure we were all going to fall like bowling pins. For a few weeks when that didn’t happen, I started to loosen up, but now, as I approach halfway, the signs are starting to look worrisome. See? said Chicken Licken. Wait and see what happens in the winter, when the seasonal flu arrives.
CES have been anxious times, to say the least. It’s no surprise that the architecture of our brains has changed to reflect this. I was recently reading Psalm 106: “In Egypt they did not consider your wonders, nor remember the abundance of your faithful love; they rebelled against the Most High at the Red Sea.
I caught myself thinking, Come on! They were trapped, with the entire Egyptian army descending on them. It’s the kind of urgency that tends to wipe all the previous happy results out of your head. There is not much time to consider the wonders of God in a crisis.
Maybe it’s like swimming. I learned to swim in elementary school, but if one day I fell from a boat, would I remember not to panic? Would I make it to shore? Not clear. Swimming unexpectedly in icy water with all your clothes on is a lot different from floating in a hot pool on vacation. This is why I wear a life jacket when kayaking. It makes sense to take precautions, to master the skills, to keep practicing.
By analogy, if I consider the wonders of God when I have time and space, then maybe a moment will open up in the middle of the next crisis, a little space in which I can remember the abundance of the faithful love of God and do not give in to panic.
I NOTED during the first lockdown that my stress was physically written on my body. Even when I wasn’t consciously worried, my shoulders were tense. I stayed awake at 3 a.m. and realized that my fists were clenched. It only took a minute or two to loosen them. Well, if it’s like that, I thought, I might as well hang on to something concrete.
So, for 18 months, I fell asleep (or awake) with an olive wood cross in my fist. You can use it as a sermon illustration. You’re welcome. You might also like to sing along with me, “I’ll hold on to the old rough cross (rough cross), And finally exchange it for a crown.”
I DON’T have a crown, but I have a lovely, jeweled tiara, which I sometimes wear in the Manchester Writing School office, if I have to remind my colleagues that I am the Academic Director, and they have to stop taking the mickey.
I tried it again at the beginning of September, after a year of telecommuting. It does not fit. I have to keep my head still, or the tiara slips and crashes onto my keyboard, accidentally cursing at a random teacher, via Teams chat. Uncomfortable is the head that wears the tiara, as CS Lewis, or quite possibly St Augustine, or John Wesley puts it. These are the names most likely to pop up in speeches and sermons.
I’m sometimes struck by the fact that while we do have an eye for inclusiveness when hosting events these days – all-male, all-white lineup seems more and more old-fashioned – these are still the ones. white male authorities who tend to be referred. from the platform. I tell myself that too, with my shimmering tiara in precarious balance.
“Then I will cherish the old sturdy cross (sturdy cross), until my trophies are finally laid down.” I’m here to tell you that you probably won’t get much or enjoy life if you’re worried about losing your ill-fitting tiara. For the tiara, replace as appropriate in the drop-down menu (you can tick multiple boxes): dignity, perfectionism, conflict avoidance, pedantry, constant vigilance on what people might think of you, constant patrol of the solidity of others, have to be right about everything, please people, try to keep everything together, your important job as self proclaimed gadfly at C of E, other (please specify).
Someday we will throw our crowns of gold around the glassy sea; so much fun and get into the tiara-Frisbee now.
Catherine Fox is an author, lecturer and academic director of the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University.