Fail we may, sail we must.

(Being grateful in 2020)

Published for The Everyday Magazine in December 2020.

Maybe I am a masochist, because the invitation to write a piece about what I am grateful for, in this year of all years, was too good an opportunity to pass up. You don’t need me to tell you that 2020 has been a shocker, but the more I dwelled on what the hell to write here, I realised that like many tough times, good things have come from 2020, and as winter settles into its seat and 2021 approaches, I realise I have a lot to thank 2020 for. I found my strength. 

According to historian Arthur Marwick, the cultural phenomenon known as the Swinging Sixties started in 1958, not 1960, and in the same vein, I think of this most quite frankly bizarre of years as having started in September 2019. Things began getting wonky for me a good three months before 2020 officially started. 

Last September, I was stumbling out of the wreckage of being dumped from a great height, and found myself lurching straight into a hospital waiting room and possible cancer diagnosis. Emergency surgery planned for early February, I went for a last blowout in Brighton the weekend before my operation and spent the night surrounded by good friends dancing my ass off to one of my music heroes Andrew Weatherall. I didn’t realise that it would be my last night of hugging and sweating on a dark, crowded dance floor for the foreseeable future. Andrew Weatherall swiftly died of a heart embolism shortly after my surgery; that should have been a pretty clear sign that this year was going to be even more chockfull of unpleasant surprises than I previously thought. 

Little did I know in February, which I spent recovering on my sofa dreaming of a summer of festivals and fun and the bad times being behind me, that by the time I gingerly made it off my sofa and out of the house the world would be joining me in lockdown. A shift in my worldview had already started by then. My wonderful friends who got me through a tough few months made me realise how much I was loved when I felt unlovable and broken, a brush with death that made me want to hold my children tighter and created a chink of light like no other was already making me feel like change was happening. I felt physically weak, emotionally bruised, but stronger than I had felt in a long time, and determined to live my life better and fill it with more beauty than I had before. I felt ready to take on the world; then coronavirus came knocking.

The impending lockdown and unknown threat of a pandemic felt just too big for me to cope with at that point; it knocked me reeling. I wasn’t alone I know, but I felt it, stood in my front garden in blazing sunshine in March sobbing after finding out my mum was very ill with coronavirus. The relentlessness of this year, even by March, felt like a dark comedy. In my mind’s eye, 2020 has been like a queue of unwelcome and majorly irritating visitors bearing unwanted gifts snaking up my path and along the road. Just when I got rid of one, shut the door and slumped on the sofa exhausted, there was another knock on the door! Haha! The joke is on you Kerry; will you make it through your unplanned open house year?

So, in rough order. As well as lockdown on my own with two kids to look after, this year I have also dealt with one friend’s overdose over House Party, caught coronavirus myself and therefore having to leave my twelve-year-old to look after his little sister for two days (no country-wide trip to find a nanny for us). I have been blocked on social media by family members for being ‘woke’, and dislocated my shoulder twice in two weeks. Yes, I tripped over a guy rope in that brief window of freedom in the summer and tore my shoulder to bits, too busy admiring the stars on the first night of our long-awaited holiday – and I’m still waiting for yet more surgery to fix my shoulder.

But you know what? Something has been fucking amazing. I hate to use such an overused word, but I discovered my resilience. As well as the life-changing few months before the pandemic hit, lockdown created this space where I had no choice but to stand still and take a good, long look at my life. As a friend said recently “there was so much of that time that was beautiful; it was painfully beautiful”. It takes the world falling apart sometimes to test yourself, to find out where you will break, and I have discovered it takes a lot more than any of the shit 2020 has thrown my way for me to break. I am made of strong stuff. 

I feel sure of myself like I never have before. I feel focussed, and I know what I want to achieve. I create, where before I didn’t have the guts. I know what I deserve, and it is better than what I thought was my due before. I know what I am capable of, and it is more than I ever thought. I can feel my strength, my resilience inside of me. It is only the size of a piece of grit in my very core, but it is dense, like a black hole, and holds the universe. It anchors me when I feel buffeted, it is strength distilled. 

As my personal mantra for 2020 and symbol of all I am grateful for, I want to borrow Andrew Weatherall’s slogan and battle cry, penned by him not just in song but in ink on his body: ‘Fail we may, sail we must’. 

Don’t get me wrong; the woman who stood in her front garden openly crying when she heard that her mum was being rushed to hospital is still here. I am still struggling in a lot of ways, life is still pretty tough and some of the time I don’t feel so strong, but I am so grateful for my resilience; finding my nugget of grit. I have survived so far, and so have you, and onwards we shall go. 

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