When life won’t go clockwise.

As it was during the first lockdown, something has been brought back now:

It’s the clockwise one-way system round the parks.

That would be fine for most, but definitely not for me. For a long time now, the idea of doing a lap of anything is beyond me. The last time, when I had done enough, I had to step out of the circuit and take an alternative route across the uneven ground, not meeting the eyes of the other walkers following the correct direction. This time round, seeing the sign up again stopped me dead. I don’t have the energy to follow zig zags or trip over lumps of grass. So I don’t go in to the park any more.

When we can’t be the people the world assumes we can be, when we can’t do the things it asks of us, it’s lonely, frustrating and often humiliating. Some days it’s easy to hold our heads high and see other people’s respect. Other days…

Years ago I made a T-shirt that said, ‘Go against the flow’. Little did I know then that thirty years later I would be doing that in a literal sense. I still like the times when I’m doing the same things as everyone else- like sitting in a group, or driving. I still have to swallow strange shyness, (or is it pride?) when I have to do something that makes me different, like using trekking poles to walk in a residential area, or taking advantage of my blue badge to mount a kerb instead of using the car park that’s further away. There’s something that needs to happen in those times: either stop caring or, if that’s too hard, stop thinking.

The mad thing is, I’m quite certain that nobody would ever challenge me on my contrary choices. My neighbour does ask me if it’s snowing when he sees me with my poles and I laugh it off but one of these days… I hate walking away from a standing group to find somewhere to sit down. I wish I could be like ‘most people’. But then the question rises up:

Who else is like me? There must be other people who have been stopped by the one-way signs, or mothers who are struggling to keep up with all the assumptions that life with a new baby is a pure joy, or homeschooling parents who post work that took tears and tantrums to achieve, or pastors who are quietly crumbling behind that smile, or people glad of face masks because they can’t even look happy these days.

Life can’t always go clockwise. Everyone falls off the treadmill at some point. We can’t always keep going in the right direction. Brave faces can’t hold up indefinitely.

So what can we do?

Don’t be ashamed to step off the path, don’t be afraid of the rough ground and don’t forget that you are not alone.

Next time I venture into the park I will think about all of you, step off the path and go against the flow. I really hope to see you there too.

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