Hannah Stone, our Poet Theologian in Virtual Residence, considers how, as we enter another national lockdown, prisons can be metaphorical and shares a poem that reflects on the experience of a friend emerging from a long period of depression.
I write on the day that parliament is debating the enforcement of the second English lockdown, due to commence on Thursday 5th November. When I was appointed in this role, Helen Reid, the director of LCI, and I hoped that in addition to reflecting through this weekly blog on current events, especially the experiences of communities in lockdown, through the medium of poetry, that when lockdown ended my role might develop into slightly different directions. For the next four weeks, however, ‘live’ face to face events, including very sadly the House of Questions exhibition which is a Visual Artist/Community Theologian collaboration, have been postponed and once again we find ourselves in what my yoga teacher gently and euphemistically called another period of ‘home stay’.
As a poet, the language we all use to express events and ideas is of great interest to me. We’ve been thinking of the plight of refugees, especially those who risks ocean crossings, and remembering that the apostle Paul had experience of shipwreck. He was also imprisoned, as were others of Jesus’ disciples (depicted in the Acts of the Apostles). Jesus showed a striking mercy towards those imprisoned. Matthew 25 records a powerful challenge to discern the right actions, in a range of situations, including asking whether you have visited those in prison. Many of us don’t have the opportunity to do that, although it has long been part of Christian ministry, and I consider myself fortunate that in my role as an Open University tutor I have been able to teach students in prison.
But prisons can be metaphorical, too. Those struggling with mental health issues can feel very confined by their condition and the physical constraints of lockdown are surely challenging. Whilst we cannot literally visit people in prison, I am sure many people will be finding imaginative ways to reach out to those most affected by the latest lockdown, to help people find chinks of light, and windows of hope, to find their homes places of comfort and ease rather than virtual prisons, a ‘home stay’ not a lockdown. Today’s poem reflects on the experience of a friend as he emerged from a long period of depression, hopeful but uncertain what would come next. I’ve borrowed the metaphor Winston Churchill used to describe the depression with which he lived.
Back, minus black dog
You were gone so long we began to question
whether you had bought a return ticket.
The arrivals board showed delays; fingers crossed for
no cancellations. With phones in flight mode
there would be no updates about arrival time.
Each time the doors slid open
we scanned for a familiar face.
A trickle, then a flood of passengers, emerged,
some with longer beards, shorter hair,
lost or gained pounds, which challenge recognition.
Then you’re there,
not sure if there’s a ‘welcome’ board with your name on,
or if you need to join the taxi queue,
and wondering if you’re wearing the right clothes
for the season this side of the glass.