Róisín Ingle: Five ways to find joy in a pandemic. Only one of them is illegal

If you’re feeling lonely or despondent at this time ... read on

Five ways to lift your spirits during lockdown.

Five ways to lift your spirits during lockdown.

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My mother is known, by me at least, as Ann “Glass Half Full” Ingle. She’s a bit like that psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, author of Holocaust memoir Man’s Search for Meaning. He was a “tragic optimist”, accepting that life is suffering, but searching for meaning and joy in it anyway. My mother (81), like many women her age, has lived through some pretty dark times. I’m reading a first draft of her own unpublished memoir at the moment. I’ve given it the working title, Ann’s Search for Meaning.

It’s gritty stuff, but this is no misery memoir. Through it all, through poverty, through caring for a husband with mental illness, through his death by suicide and through parenting eight children alone she carried on resolutely topping up her glass, relishing life and feeling grateful. She’s the person I call if I need to put a positive spin on a bad situation. Humour helps – my daughters say their nanny is the funniest person they know, which is really something when you consider their godfather is Paul Howard.

(Ann Ingle is, I should add, the person I don’t call if instead of being positive, I’m more in the mood to continue feeling sorry for my pathetic self. I was feeling wretched recently, my ego battered and so had to cut my chat with her short because her positivity threatened to lift my mood. Sometimes you really need a good wallow under the duvet, as Viktor Frankl didn’t write.)

Weed. It’s everywhere isn’t it? Every park I go to smells like a 1960s commune

Unfortunately, even Ann “Glass Half Full” Ingle has her limits and she’s not in good spirits at the moment. She fell the other week, at home. She tripped on a stupid wire and fell to the floor. She is otherwise in great health, so a fall was not ideal, especially in the middle of a pandemic.

At the hospital, they gave her an X-ray and shook their heads at the metal plate that was inserted in her shoulder after another fall, down a steep set of stairs, several years ago. “We’d never do that these days,” the doctor said disapprovingly of the metal plate.

They told her to rest up but she’s not sleeping too well with the discomfort and pain. And when I rang her one morning and asked how she was she said: “Not good. Full of the miseries. This Covid thing. And the not sleeping.” I was a bit shocked. I waited for the Glass Half Full part of the sentence. It didn’t arrive.

So this column is for my mother. For your mother. Or your father. Or you. It’s for anyone living alone or for those who are not alone but are nevertheless feeling lonely and despondent at this time. I offer you five small ways to find joy in a pandemic. (Only one of them is illegal.) You can add yours.

Hope it helps, mum. Hope it helps, everyone.

1 100 days of Heaney. My friend Cormac started reading a Seamus Heaney poem every day using the “100 Poems” book. He called it #100DaysOfHeaney on social media and a few people have since joined in. You could join in, mum. I know your eyes are not good but I bet the book is on audio. Remember Seamus used to live down the road from us in Sandymount? Anyway, poetry. It helps. From Night Drive by Seamus Heaney: “The smells of ordinariness/ Were new on the night drive through France”. God, mum, imagine a drive through France.

2 Windowsill Fairies. From a wonderful woman I know called Órla: “A good thing about the last few months has been the Windowsill Fairy routine myself and my neighbour directly opposite have perfected. I drop Breffni nettle pesto, she leaves hot scones. She gets a tub of salad. My dog Flee gets BBQ steak. I got sweet peas and roses yesterday.” I think you should start this with a neighbour opposite you mum. Pure, surprising joy.

3 Maeve Binchy. In the last week it seems as if everyone I know has been listening to that hilarious story from Maeve, then women’s editor of The Irish Times, about the time she accidentally used a picture of open heart surgery to illustrate a recipe for veal casserole by Theodora Fitzgibbon. I’m no doctor, mum, but my prescription is to listen to that piece of audio once a day every day. Marvellous Maeve.

4 Acorns. A man called Matt Gilbert posted this on his Twitter account @richlyevocative and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. “Just found a stash of acorns in our youngest’s coat pocket. On the way to school I asked him what they were there for, he said: ‘sometimes people have the same coat as me, that’s how I know it’s mine’. Let’s get some acorns and put them in our coat pockets mum and when we’re out for a walk on cold days, and our fingers find them, let them remind us of wide-eyed beauty and innocence.

5 Weed. It’s everywhere isn’t it, mum? Every park I go to smells like a ’60s commune. Every bench I walk past in town, I’m hit by a waft of a substance that’s legal in California but not here. The smells of ordinariness, indeed. I’m not complaining. My friend certainly wasn’t when her dog arrived home from the park the other day with a bag of it in his mouth. She hasn’t touched it obviously. Not yet. I’m not suggesting you turn to drugs, mum. (Not yet.) I’m just saying this lockdown is young. And you never know what a passing fairy might leave on your windowsill.

roisin@irishtimes.com