Davy and Theo

In person

We went over to Brighton at the weekend. We went for an event – for Friends of the Brighton Yoga Foundation – but this was reason enough to catch up with people I hadn’t hung out with in a long while. So Phil and Storm and I trekked over on Saturday, had a lovely dog walk with Peter Blackaby and had a cuppa with he and Sabine. Then we tucked ourselves up in an AirBnB for the night and in the morning had coffee and a wander with Davy Jones, then an even longer walk and snacks on the sea front with Jude Mills, and after a brief rest and dinner in a dog-friendly restaurant, the boys dropped me off at the event for a couple of hours, where I chatted with old friends and new, and shockingly, won the raffle, while Phil and Storm snoozed before the long drive home again. Storm of course, was a delight, charming everyone, even if we couldn’t sneak him into the venue on Sunday night.

The weekend as a whole to me feels like a watershed, a return, even though or perhaps because it wasn’t a big event or a grand public opportunity.

It was so good to see everyone, and to be able to chat in a way that just isn’t easy online. In person meet ups have all these moments of down time and serendipity and unexpected connections that lead to a different kind of conversation. It matters, I think, more than we know, and it sustained me through the whole weekend, and was worth all the tiredness today. I am honestly only sad that I couldn’t catch up with more people while I was there. So I guess I’m ready to think about in person events again. Get in touch if you’ve an idea for an event or a training or another excuse for us to hang out in community together.

It’s important. There have been a number of conflicts I’ve watched bubble up in the last two years that I’m not sure would be as bad if people had been able to spend time getting to know and trust each other. At any rate, this weekend was a weekend of firsts, and of ‘first in a long time’ things, including the first time Storm had been overnight with us not in the van or at home. And it was two long days and a lot of being around people, which neither Phil or I have done in a couple of years, really. We haven’t been shielding, but we have been careful, and there aren’t many things we’ve found are worth the extra risk and anxiety to do.

It turns out that we’re probably too late and cautious to make it to the first big bhakti event in ages – the Winter Bhakti Gathering at the end of February. We’re just not quite sure we’re ready to sit and sing with so many people in such a small space, even though many dear friends will be there. A lot of other people are ready, and tickets have sold out fast, so the decision feels like it’s been made for us.

I think we’ll continue to feel into each invitation and each event as it comes, making each decision as much for intuitive as practical reasons.

There’s an arc of such events forming between now and May, when I travel to Krakow for the YDYS2022 conference, when I’ll not just be away and around large groups of people, I’ll be away from Phil, and Storm, in ways that right now feel huge and anxious making for all three of us. I’m not sure what twists and turns the path to Krakow will take for me, but I have a fixed point in time and space to get to.

That journey feels difficult even as it feels necessary, because it’s not over, you know. It really isn’t. While you might think of me as an obviously ‘healthy’ person, it turns out that neurodivergent folks are having much worse outcomes from catching COVID, and it’s not really clear why. And this pandemic hit many of us hard, bringing more issues, more vulnerability to navigate. I’m still feeling my way out of the sensory burnout of early lockdown, still carrying emergency medication for possible meltdowns. There are far more people around you than you think, who count as having ‘prior conditions’ or would be listed as ‘clinically vulnerable’.

Speaking as an autistic person in particular, I also have a very hard time with what you might call social hypocrisy. So while it might seem that ‘everyone’ is ready to ‘move on’ and ‘get back to normal’, quietly, and in conversation together, many autistic friends and I are really confused by what that might even mean.

There is no back, there is only forwards, and as we take these steps together, I have a plea to those who are eager to ‘get back to normal’.

Please, give other people time to get used to this, to figure out what ‘normal’ means and indeed if they want any part of that. Because the way we’ve treated seasonal viruses like the flu for decades has an ongoing and terrible impact on many disabled lives. Agreeing, as a society, to play Russian roulette with COVID and an infinite set of booster jabs is not ‘herd immunity’, and it will not make the impact of this or any future pandemic recede. Most people, it is true, will be okay if and when they get infected for the first or subsequent times. But COVID will not, as some seem to think, ‘only’ end lives that were going to end soon anyway. It will end many lives prematurely, and disable even more people, and with each infection, more people become more vulnerable to such diseases in the future.

We have treated people with ME and other chronic, post-viral diseases really badly in this country for decades, and we need to do better for them, and for the millions just finding out what Long COVID means. And even if ‘only’ vulnerable people are likely to die, accepting that as a justifiable cost of continuing ‘as normal’ is undeniably eugenics. There is a clear, dark line that runs over and again between such political decisions, and the dehumanisation of entire groups and races of people.

Arguably, eugenics is deeply embedded in British cultural norms, bubbling up any time the mass of people are inconvenienced for a vulnerable few. But we can do better. We can learn from that history if we choose.

So a plea then, for good community, and gentle inclusion, for fewer assumptions about what is ‘tolerable’ or ‘normal’, and more checking in with the accommodations that others need to find comfort in co-presence. Because coming together with like minded people is more than precious – it is vital to the health of all our communities. As I tell so many trainees – please keep noticing who isn’t in the room when you do so. May our gatherings be blessed with new rituals of consent, of coming together, and of new ways to care for each other.

Whether it is checking if people want to meet outside rather than indoors, asking if today is a hugging day, or making an effort to do an LFT before we meet – these are the ways we demonstrate care, these are the ways we find trust, and thus these will be the ways we find more equitable, more justice-focused community together.

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