For me, it’s the red joggers. I bought a pair in August, when I returned to Edinburgh after five months in Oxford for lockdown 1.0. They were Marks and Spencers, brushed cotton inside, extra long. After a week, I bought a second pair. Soon I was wearing them all the time: one in the wash, one out. Working from home, there was no situation they did not suit. At the computer, there was none of that waistband difficulty that you get after hours in jeans, and for wandering around the flat they were just a bit warmer than the usual leggings. As the autumnal days turned wintery, I put baselayers under them for my walks, and for the shivering hours at my desk under droughty windows. It feels cheerful to wear red every day, even if no one sees it. Over the last several months, I’ve bought new jeans; I’ve even, in a fit of optimism, bought new work trousers – but they sit in my wardrobe, unworn, awaiting a smarter time. It’s the red joggers for now.
When the University of Edinburgh Chaplaincy team got together for an anniversary lockdown tea over Teams, our receptionist Judith suggested that we bring our pandemic survival kit: what’s helped us get through this year, and why. I ‘fessed up to the red joggers – it’s why my jumpers, the only thing visible on Zoom, are always neutral colours – and a colleague emailed me afterwards to say that hers, too, are Marks. (Grey marl, in her case.) We brought hiking boots and trainers, pens and journals, knitting and Taylor Swift. These things have kept us moving when life became very still, taken us outside into green places when days felt grey, occupied our hands, kept us warm, allowed ideas to flow, brought sparkle, colour, and texture back into the present moment, and comforted us when we, too, felt like an old cardigan under someone’s bed.
Once I started thinking about it, I could bring to mind a host of things that have kept me going over the past year. Not just the joggers and the invisible strings, but also the beautiful cup I bought from Marchmont Hardware, that I drink tea from every day; the view from the castle terrace, a brisk walk away after work; the woollen blanket to tuck round cold or tired knees; the cups of tea on Pam’s couch, a bubble blessing; the children’s books – E. Nesbit and Laura Ingalls Wilder, William Nicholson and Lian Hearn – that I’ve shared afresh with schoolfriends; the monthly postcards from my aunt and cousin; the weekly call with my best friend; a mindfulness practice, that quietly pins everything together; and, of course, Ben the silky-faced collie.
After a year of tough times, we know now what helps to pick us up, keep us buoyant, and make life bearable. It’s good to take time to remember these, alongside the harder memories that make their way to the surface unbidden; and to have something to look to and remind us, when we forget. So for this lockdown anniversary, you may like to set aside some time to think about what it is that helps to pick you up and to listen to this self-compassion practice, or a restful body scan.