I want to share a story with you that isn’t big, maybe, but I think it captures what we are living right now.
Back in October, somebody sent a donation for me to purchase a bicycle. Cycling is probably the fastest way around London (although it is far from free. It has been eight years since I sold my car on the way to my DTS, and let me tell you, I had forgotten how much upkeep on vehicles costs! But at the same time, they are wonderfully grounding.), and I began cycling to work when weather permitted.
Now, in the times of corona, cycling or walking are the only two ways that I can get around. I cycle the four miles to Think (our cafe) twice a week, but more importantly, Meli and I cycle three miles to the City of London two nights a week to pick up donations from M&S, a posh supermarket chain that donates out-of-date or damaged food to charities.
Every time we arrive at M&S, the staff smile and welcome us. The manager brings us out crates of food and helps us pack bags, and more often than not, some of the staff help us load it onto our bikes. We are slowly building relationships with the workers, all of whom act as if they enjoy having us in their shop, even as they are trying to do the intense sanitation regime required when they shut now.
On the way home, Meli and I keep a lookout for homeless people to whom we can pass out some of the food. It’s always fun to hear their genuine delight when they’re given such nice treats (seriously, the food we receive is amazing). Once, I stopped and gave fresh pastries to some girls who were hanging out on their front steps. They didn’t really know what to do (I guess receiving pastries from a stranger is a bit odd), but we still stopped and talked for a bit.
I know this is only a little anecdote, but to me, it shows how community-oriented we’ve become in London. We are still on lockdown. We can’t go into shops yet, because they’re not open. We can only get food delivered or take it away from the shops that are open. But people have learnt how to enjoy each other again. We can meet our friends for walks, and I have seen so many people do just that. We can meet in parks, and now, when we sit two metres apart on blankets with our friends, we aren’t constantly checking our phones or wishing we were at home watching Netflix. We are genuinely delighted to be together.
Who knows what is really coming out of this whole situation, but I am seeing community built again in a city that is often called the loneliest city in the world. When I stand in the window of Think to receive the takeaway orders, customers want to have deep talks. A quarter of people in the UK attended a religious service online in the first six weeks of lockdown (up from 6% normally). My neighbours stop and talk when they see me in my front garden. We are building relationships. We are becoming part of one another’s lives, and we are letting people go deep with us. And the real miracle of all is that it’s been sunny and warm now for several weeks, but when you ask people how they are, nobody seems to want to talk about the weather. They’re finally ready to start talking about what matters.