What a difference a month makes. I’ve been to the cinema twice. I’ve been out with friends for Sunday lunch. I’ve been to a foot stomping, rock blues gig- indoors! I’ve even hugged people. All things that I haven’t done for two years. Slowly but with determined optimism I have been stepping out. It almost feels normal to go into a pub full of people for an evening of music and chats.
I say almost because frankly it still feels a little odd. The first time that I sat back on the high stool it felt as if I was towering above everyone. It made me dizzy. It also felt weird to be so close to the bar and to order without a plexiglass wall between me and the barman.
Last Sunday we went to a trad session in town. How wonderful to chat quietly in the snug as the musicians played, and singers answered the noble call in the front room. It was all so familiar and yet so alien. A perfect stranger struck up a conversation by telling me that they came from a family of eight girls and three boys, and I thought to myself “Now there’s a conversation I haven’t had in a long while!” I could almost hear the rusty social chit chat gears grinding as I tried to remember how to make small talk. (When a lovely gent introduced himself and held out his hand for a handshake I took it, trying not to let the shock and horror show on my face.)
Though I can still feel the anxiety and fear of the pandemic, I am ready to cast them aside and get on with it. I’m ready to mingle. I’m ready to travel. I’m off to Galway this week and will go to Brussels to visit my sister the first week of March. There are launches to go to, readings to deliver, places to see and people to meet. I am both delighted and apprehensive. Sometimes it’s hard to know how to feel. I’m not one for social media affirmations, but I came across an idea that has been helpful, as I navigate out of my cave and back into the surf.
I was watching a clip of the American author Kurt Vonnegut giving a lecture where he says that the problem is that we often can’t tell what’s good news and what’s bad news. We pretend we know, but we don’t. At the end of the lecture, he tells a story about his beloved Uncle Alex.
“What Uncle Alex found objectionable in so many human beings is that they so seldom notice when they are happy,” Vonnegut explained. “We’d be sitting under an apple tree, on a July afternoon drinking lemonade and talking about this and that and Uncle Alex would say ‘Stop! Wait a minute! If this isn’t nice – I don’t know what nice is.’ And he would do this again and again. I hope that you will take up this habit and notice when things are awfully nice and say: If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what nice is.”
This instantly resonated with me. What I need to feel comfortable as we leave the pandemic behind us is to notice when things are nice. Unlike happiness, with its aspirational expectations, nice is easy to recognise. Happy is often the bar by which we judge our lives, but nice is less complicated though no less comforting. In fact, after two years of looking over our shoulders and fearing the next step, nice is pretty darn good.
So, I’ve been trying to notice when things are nice and to stop and note it out loud. What I’ve found is that I am blessed with many top-notch nice moments every day. From watching a blue tit at the bird feeder at breakfast to strolling down main street to meet a friend for coffee, there are a lot of nice moments to notice and be grateful for. Driving down to Ballydehob this afternoon to help my daughter move house, spring was in the air, the landscape rolled down to Roaringwater Bay, the sun was setting in the west, the tide was out, and the brightly painted lobster boats looked like some giant toddler’s toys strewn on the strand. I rolled down the window and yelled “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what nice is.”