Unlike the Ten Commandments, rules are not set in stone. They are often open to interpretation, fail to cover the current situation, or even come into conflict with common sense or our conscience. Yet when we decide for ourselves, we are led by our own bias and the temptation to put our needs and desires above what we know to be right. When should we follow rules, and when should we use our own judgement?
We want to believe in perfect solutions. We want better hospitals without paying taxes to fund them, safety from crime and terrorism without our civil liberties being impinged on, new technological gadgets without factory pollution. In reality, life is a constant trade-off. This is enshrined in various scientific laws, but also in simple folk wisdom: ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch’.
Being a parent is by far the hardest thing I have ever done. At the same time, it is the thing I most desperately want to get right. Many parents probably recognize this. You give birth to this tiny little being, so perfect that it takes your breath away. You want to love and protect them, to keep them safe, in the untouched state in which they came from the womb.
As teenagers, my best friend and I spent many hours discussing our ideas of the perfect boyfriend. Piercing blue eyes or gorgeous deep brown ones, a warm smile, a good sense of humour, intelligent, considerate… it was a long list. At the same time as I dreamed of meeting this paragon of perfection, I held out no real hope of ever finding any boyfriend. They would undoubtedly have their own list of ideal traits in a girlfriend, and I was acutely aware of how few boxes I would tick.
Back in March last year, when this all started, I didn’t hope that it would be over soon. I expected it to be over soon. As time went on and the seriousness of the situation became apparent, my expectations subsided into hope – or rather, a string of hopes. The hope that the schools would soon reopen. The hope that we could celebrate my father’s 70th birthday together. The hope that a vaccine would be developed. The hope that the developed vaccines would quickly improve our situation. The hope – once the schools had reopened – that they would never close again. Save one, all of these hopes were dashed. And now, I am finding it very hard to frame any sort of hope.
The last few days, as we cycled around our town, we regularly passed heaps of Christmas trees lying at the kerb, waiting to be collected by the council. It’s always a sad sight: the trees that we glimpsed through windows, decked with lights and ornaments, now lying drab and discarded on the pavement. This year, with only gloomy prospects of dull lockdown days ahead, I completely understand the people who are keeping up their decorations for longer, trying to bring some light into these dark times. But I won’t be one of them.
I always find the start of January a difficult time. The house seems dark and dull with the Christmas lights returned to the attic, the living room has an empty hole where the Christmas tree was, the tree itself lies forlornly out in the street awaiting the binmen. This year the bleak prospect of at best a lengthy lockdown (and at worst, who knows?) makes 2021 gape like an endless black hole, ready to swallow me up.
Presents are much more than just presents. Presents are our way of expressing our love for each other. You see this in the stories of people’s sorrow at being unable to give each other presents this year. Faced with the loss of jobs and homes, caused by the omnipresent threat of corona, you would think that Christmas presents would not even feature on the list of things to worry about. Yet they do, because of the emotional weight we give them.