Daffodils, and Remembering Covid 

In this week's MindLetter, Kitty Wheater reflects on a gift of narcissi, a memory of Covid, and how we heal from difficult memory itself.

A tree surrounded by daffodils, with the sun setting in the distance
Daffodils on the Meadows, 15th March 2020 by Dr Kitty Wheater

Perhaps it was the narcissi from the Scilly isles my aunt had sent, awaiting me delicately scented when I returned from work; or perhaps it was just a clocking of the date, the realisation that I had survived another Edinburgh February – but a memory jumped unbidden into my head one night this week as I lay, over-caffeinated, too slowly bound for sleep.  

I remembered the moment three years ago, walking home from work across the Meadows, when I realised that Covid was coming. It was early March, and the daffodils were out and the sun shining, and life was still normal, and colleagues were still using the word ‘over-reaction’. But Italy was locked down by then, and other countries were following suit. I’d known in my gut that it was coming for us, too, but it was the moment of tranquillity that caught me, the thrum of the Meadows, the golden nods of the daffodils, people bustling happily about their lives. I knew suddenly, as if a wormhole had opened up right there in the cool air beside me, that life was about to change. I didn’t yet know what Covid would do to us, nor to me, but I knew that every person on the Meadows that day would feel it; that it would come for us as sure and swooping as a wheeling raven over Holyrood. It is the only time in my life that I have ever cried from fear and sorrow while walking down the street.  

For a long time my memories of Covid have dipped in and out of my awareness like unwelcome guests. They arise and ignite something that is still very much alive, and I might stay with them awhile, work with them kindly in all the ways I know, and then, at some point, let them leave. Each time, I’ve known that they will be back. There is something unfinished about them. But this memory, this time, felt different. I remembered it as vividly as if I were back there, standing on the street, watching the evening sun glow through the yellow haze of daffodil petals; and yet I was also distant. Something has settled, moved through, moved on.  

What makes this possible, this concretion of the diffuse, the finding of solid ground, like the vista of a landscape coming into focus after a snowstorm? ‘We need to talk about Covid,’ PhD student Bo van Broekhoven said in the Chaplaincy, several months ago, and so we did in February, in an ‘Unmasking Covid’ event with novelist Sarah Moss. Those who came were grateful for the demarcated time and space. With the pandemic’s urgencies passed, others have grabbed our attention; we have forgotten to do the slower work of making sense of what happened to us. This is societal, but it’s also personal. For many, Covid still intrudes: memories snarl up the flow of our minds, our bodies bear lingering pain and fatigue, our hearts still hurt from losses or betrayals. We may avoid the slow work, for fear that it will only trigger the fastness of what befell us.  

Recall, then, the places of the past that feel easier – the pockets of goodness, our pandemic survival kit; watch for the moment that some place of former trouble arises, and we find, with grateful relief, that it has settled and healed itself while we weren’t looking. I never expected that memory of fear and pre-emptive grief on Melville Drive to come to mind and feel ok. Okness is something to dwell in, to honour. Slowly, it gives us confidence; it teaches us that other memories might also, one day, find their way from the pressing grip around our hearts and guts to sit, like quietened beasts, beside us. 

With time, and patience, and slow work, this is how things that happened to us become things that we lived through; how life itself bubbles onward and around. One day, we discover that the river bed it leaves behind has made a different course: one with daffodils, delicate, scented, on its springy banks. 

Sending you warm wishes for this snowy weekend.