Perhaps, when this is over, we should all plant a cherry blossom tree and remember all we’ve lost.
There comes a time, every Spring, when you’ll hear a particular song on the radio and realise the winter is finally gone and we’re heading out of the darkness.
The same way the Barrys’ Tea advert about the train set always tells you it’s finally Christmas, every year, around the start of April, you’ll hear a song that will plant you firmly in that precise time, and suddenly you will know the summer is on its way.
“Let me tell you about the cherry trees,” sings the urgent, earnest Cork voice. “Every April in our town, they put on the most outrageous clothes, and they sing and they dance around. Hardly anybody sings or dances, hardly anybody dances or sings, in this town that I call my own, you have to hand it to the cherry trees, and they seem to be saying, to me anyway, you know we’ve traveled all around the sun, it’s taken us one whole year, well done, everyone, well done.”
John Spillane’s glorious Dance of the Cherry Trees is an anthem to the Spring, and perhaps sometimes it can be the reminder we all need that the bad times will pass and the sun will shine again.
I thought of Dance of the Cherry Trees last week, when I read a brilliant story in The Avondhu, even as the daily Coronavirus death toll in Ireland topped 40 and day-on-day seemed only to get worse. I stopped tweeting “Our worst day yet”, because I’m depressed enough without dragging anyone else down with me.
Every day I check Twitter around 6pm, and I look at Fergal Bowers’ account, and if there’s nothing there, I turn on the Six-One and await the bad news from the daily briefing. This is not healthy behaviour, I know, and I know I’m far from alone in obsessing at the daily figures. On Monday we lost 77 people. Every death is a world ended, and a whole tapestry of lives devastated by loss. It’s hard not be affected.
I think we’re all, to one degree or another, suffering the ill effects of the lockdown. We’re all depending on the frontline heroes, the healthcare workers, the Gardaí, the supermarket workers, and we’re all feeling the strain, those of us not in essential jobs too. Some of us are off work, or out of work, cooped up at home and trying hard not to be irritable. Relationships are under pressure, and some of us are drinking too much, eating too much, not exercising enough, and many of us are having bad dreams every night.
The details may vary, but I think we’re all dealing with toxic levels of anxiety, stress, depression, loneliness and overcrowding. And we’re doing it to save lives.
Latest evidence suggests we have managed to flatten the curve and have so far kept the pressure on our hospitals to a manageable level, but experts say we cannot risk complacency, and that we are nowhere near safe yet, even if we are all struggling with lockdown fatigue.
There seemed to be a definite and very troubling shift in public sentiment in Cork on Monday, with loads of people out and about, lots of traffic on the streets, supermarkets busy, and social distancing something other people have to do. The 77 deaths announced that evening might give us all pause for thought. If we lost 77 people in – say – a bus crash, we’d be in mourning for a week, with flags at half-mast and a book of condolences in every parish.
This is far from over, and we need to be very careful.
I mentioned a great story in The Avondhu. Two weekends ago, on Easter Sunday, Pat Hennessy of Hennessy’s Nurseries, and his young son Michael, planted on the grounds of St Andrew’s Catholic Church in Kilfinane, Co Limerick, a pair of cherry blossom trees, just inside the main gates, one on either side.
Pat Hennessy told The Avondhu that cherry blossom trees had grown on the grounds of St Andrew’s in the past, and it was his hope that, in the times to come, these new trees would come to mean something to people, and serve as a reminder of these difficult times, and a reminder too that there is always hope.
“To our frontline staff who work tirelessly, fighting to keep us safe; to our elders, locked away in their homes, and terrified of an enemy they cannot see; to all of us, [these trees] will serve as a symbol of hope …”
Mr Hennessy said the cherry blossom trees would serve too as a memorial to all those lives lost to the Coronavirus pandemic. It’s a lovely thought, and one which might perhaps benefit every town and village in the land.
When these horrible days finally pass – and they will pass, although that may be hard to believe right now – we will return to our daily lives, although many will do so without beloved family members and friends. Perhaps, then, when this is all over, we should all plant cherry blossom trees in memory of all the lives cut short.
And every year, as pink and white confetti announces that better times are coming, perhaps the cherry blossom – “loveliest of trees”, as AE Housman had it – might serve as a memorial to all those we have lost, and a reminder of all that we did to try and save lives, and a reminder too that all things must pass, and that however bleak the winter, the sun will shine again.
“Cherry blossom in the air, cherry blossom on the street, cherry blossom in your hair, and a blossom at your feet.
“You know we’ve traveled all around the sun, it’s taken us one whole year, well done, everyone, well done.
“On behalf of me, and the cherry trees, well done.”