I had the pleasure of taking my mother on a real shopping trip yesterday, and it was during this excursion that I realised our takeaways from ‘Life in the Age of Corona’ – a screenplay unlikely to make it to the small screen because no-one will want to see it – are very, very different.
While I am doing my best to go with the slow and not over-populate my life again, coming up to her 95th birthday, my mother is on a contrasting mission to pick up the pace. After weeks of unexplained deafness, she is buoyed by an audiologist who works magic on her hearing. She quickly takes advantage of her returned ability to pick up on background chatter and ascertains that this miracle worker is also an elite swimmer. By the time she leaves the consultation room, my mother has it in writing that swimming has not been the cause of her deafness and has his medical permission to return to her morning swim. Her carer is furious.
‘I have a lot of things to do, ‘ mum tells me, ‘and that old proverb keeps popping into my mind – you know the one ; Look to the aunt you sluggard and mend thy ways.’ I am totally confused as I do not know this proverb. Although I have had four aunts in my life time – all of them very worthy sisters to my mother – I think it would be over-gilding the lily to describe them as highly active and industrious; their favourite pastime has been drinking tea and playing cards.
It turns out that is is my hearing that is wanting for when I query the meaning behind this biblical adage, mum refers me to Proverbs 6:6, and when I look it up I realise it reads; ‘Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise’. This makes much more sense and I love the use of the word ‘sluggard’. This will be a welcome addition to my tired teacher tool kit. ‘Five minutes until the bell, you tardy sluggards, and what have you to show for this lesson?’
During yesterday’s shopping trip, mum berates me for moving in a sluggardly fashion. She has a long list of things she needs to purchase and takes a dim view of my suggestion that she should sit down while I go off and find the things she is looking for. ‘I have waited a long time for a trip to Marks & Spencer,’ she tells me, ‘I am not going to spend it parked in the shoe department while you gallivant off.’ I trail behind her miserably, carrying her many purchases and feeling deflated that the cafe is closed. This is not just caffeine withdrawal, this is M&S caffeine withdrawal. ‘I could do with a coffee,’ mum admits, ‘but to save time, we can do a Costa drive-thru on the way home.’
When we eventually get to the checkout, I realise that mum has decided to go for some trendy trainers instead of buying a pair of new slippers as itemised on her original shopping list. ‘I saw these and thought they would save me from all that faffing around changing from slipper to shoe when I go from inside to out,’ she says, ‘now that we’ve all being double-jabbed, I’m expecting my social life to kick off again and I want to be fleet of foot.’
Driving mum back home I draw her into a discussion about how a lot of people are trying to learn some life lessons from the pandemic, and that as lockdown eases, we are trying hard not to pick up the pace to full throttle again. It is great to be able to have a conversation in the car with mum because until recently she has had to guess what anyone says in a conversation, and this has been making her contributions quite random. She is fascinated by the idea that anyone would want to slow down, but she is also distracted by my Sat Nav for it is the first time she has been able to hear it talk and she keeps breaking off from our conversation to argue with the directions it is giving.
I tell mum about a podcast I have been listening to which advises us to check in to see if we are using ‘being busy’ as a distraction from achieving our actual purpose in life. Mum has no truck with my argument that sometimes doing less – being bored even – allows the brain to be creative. ‘The devil makes work for idle hands to do,’ she opines, before breaking off to shout, ‘It’s a dog-leg junction you stupid man, do not tell my daughter to turn left!’
I try again to explain that the podcast advises that we should check our ‘to do’ lists to see if these things contribute to our overall happiness and overall purpose, and that we should delete anything that does not. ‘Shopping makes me happy,’ mum responds, ‘there is nothing on my shopping list that I would have deleted. When you are sitting in God’s waiting room you have not a moment to waste. Now, there are a couple of places I want us to call in at on the way home. ‘
I leave mum, grateful for her energy and insight and feeling a little unworthy. She does not see me depart because she is a distracted by an argument with her carer (mum is accusing her of hiding the swimsuit she will need for the 6 am dip she plans for the next day). I worry about mum, mostly because I want her to have the energy she will need for her 95th birthday celebrations, but I am also secretly proud, and a little bit jealous that she seems to have nailed her purpose in life. I can certainly ‘observe her ways,’ and she inspires me to go and research the merits of the ant world when I get home.
I have slowed down so much during Lockdown that I easily find time to create a list of interesting ant facts. I share them with you now:
- ants have superhuman strength (can carry between 20 and 50 times their own weight)
- ants don’t have ears (they hear by vibration)
- ants have two stomachs (one for nutrition the other for their community)
- ants can swim (I knew it!)
- Some ants can fly
- ants are social beings
Suddenly I am aware of my mother’s super powers and realise her need for trainers and swimming suit as she approaches her 95th year. She is the Major Tom of the ant world. When I think of everything she is still achieving – and her service to others – I feel humbled, and very, very sluggardly. It is with relief that I discover that even ants hibernate. I may still be finishing my over-wintering while my mother has started early with her proverbial call to arms.
This is not just a wake up call: this is a biblical wake up call. Time to stand and deliver.