Over the last year, I changed my mind. There was not a sudden moment of clarity where I joined another side. Rather a long, drawn out realisation that things were not as I had thought. I saw that I had followed the story that I wanted to follow. I had been immersed in right-think. I had been in an echo chamber without realising it. Perhaps even if I had realised it, I would have felt on the side of rightness and justice. My echo chamber was the good one. I was with the superior set. From my viewpoint today though, I hesitate to use language that puts me on one side of something or another. I feel detached from "sides" now and am looking at it all as if I had found a hidden door out of a very stuffy and noisy room full of people shouting and yelling at each other. I am a little bewildered that I was ever in that room, and now that I am out of it, I wonder if other people know that they can leave. They all look as if they are having so much fun in there, I can see them from out here and I don't imagine many of them are interested in following me. It is as if I have left a huge, shouty, boozy, raucous party and am now standing looking in through the conservatory windows from the quiet of the garden.
I was anti Brexit. I voted to remain. How dare the others all vote to leave. How dare they! Lucky for me, right was on my side and though the actual majority of votes were to leave, the true moral vote was definitely to stay. Whoever the leavers were, they were not only wrong, they were bad people and I was not a bad person, thank goodness for that. My outrage at the result made me and all those like me very depressed. Who were these leave-voting short sighted people, these racists and nationalists? Damn them all. I was actually married to one at the time, my late husband voted to leave but I loved and admired him immensely, and put the inconvenience that he was neither racist nor nationalist to the back of my mind. He was an exception. Oh, and some of my friends voted to leave. They are jolly nice people too, but let's not think of that either.
My rightness was soothed and pandered to by everything I heard on the radio and television. "They are biased!" said my dear late husband angrily, and I guessed he may be right that his point of view was never discussed on the airwaves. But that was the price to pay for being wrong. He just had to accept it. We, the correct army, would punish all those who voted wrong by ignoring them and carrying on as if we had had our way. Brexit would never happen. Somehow, we would all prevent it. Everything I heard and read reinforced this and I was lulled into a world view that told me that we, the good people, would never have to deal with this leaving, and all the bad people would have to give way. Ha! We thought, it'll never happen, you'll see.
It did happen. And along the road to leaving the EU a pandemic of biblical magnitude wafted in on the air, on people's clothes, their bags, cars, their handshakes and most of all from inside their bodies. Brexit became a little story in the news, it could not compete with this astonishing and glorious new thing. This new thing, this virus, was the new Armageddon. It was going to get you. You did not stand a chance and if you did stand a chance, it only left you able to pass it on to everyone else while you were not looking and thus actually killing them. You did not know if you had or had not killed anyone, but erring on the side of caution, it was a given that you had. And now the story around this virus began to be created, polished and told. Those news makers and tellers that cushioned my anti Brexit certainties began to weave another tale and by this time, my dear late husband was actually late. He had died and was not here to witness this apocalypse. His was a voice of common sense and powerful reason. He was unafraid of facts, and made his mind up unapologetically. I missed his take on the way I was obeying my radio, my neighbours, my newspapers and the telly. Unused to being wrong, I was still in my good persons echo chamber, but I did wonder what he would have said about this new narrative.
And then, I came up against the intransigence of the accepted narrative. We, my brothers, our father and I, became part of the collateral damage. At the beginning of the summer last year, in his nursing home, our helpless, befuddled and gentle old father died. For the three months before his death, in his nether world of Alzheimer's and Dementia, my brothers and I had been forbidden to go anywhere near him. We had been barred at the beginning of the panic and shut downs. He was to never, ever see us again. Hold on a minute, I thought when I was first told my Dad was hidden forever behind a disinfected plastic wall, he relies on my brothers and I visiting him. Even before the iron curtain came down, he was sweet natured, eccentric, professorial and utterly bewildered by who he was and what was happening. How could this help him? There was no way of making him understand he had not been abandoned. He, we, and I, were now lethal and so that was that. I was barred from my own father, who was little more than a child in his mind, and there was no discussion. I began to smell a rat. I have written about it here with great passion (as part of the Huunuu Virtual Literary Festival this February), and how we did get through to him despite all the protocal and madness, just as he died. It was at the point of his death that I began to get angry. Only minutes after he died, lovely and well meaning staff hugged my brothers and me. Our aprons askew, our gloves on the floor and our masks and hats hanging from our ears, we were comforted with hugs and kind words and holding of our hands by staff equally unprotected. (Never a bad word for these staff. They were wonderful, doing the best they could, and were absolute angels. They did not make the rules). If this virus thing is so lethal, if we have been kept from our childlike and terrified old father because of it, how come now that he is newly dead we are being comforted by the very things that we were not allowed to do to him when he was alive? WTF?
Our sweet natured, befuddled academic old Dad on the day he died.
And then I began to look closely at the story I was being told, the story I had willingly accepted, the narrative I had not questioned, the things I had agreed to do to save the world. My information came from the radio, the television, the newspapers and all things online. It was all the same. We are doomed and there is no hope. I began to think - I am not seeing what I am told I am seeing, and so began the long slow process of changing my mind. It was my father's death that brought me up short. I noticed how we were not able, not encouraged, to think clearly about the threat we were supposed to be under. I saw how gratefully we bought into our own fears, and how easily we dismissed each other in the name of safety. Safety from what? From death? We were to consider each other, all those lovely grandchildren of ours, our brothers and sisters, our lovely mum and funny dad and all our friends, a bio hazard. It became socially acceptable to be furious with each other if we were within yards of each other. Furious meant shouting, insulting, accusing. A good person would shop their friends and family to the police. That was good behaviour. What happened to good old courtesy and good manners? It was a sanctioned free for all. With no touching.
Nothing added up, I not only doubted the things I listened to and read from my news sources, I began to suspect them of actually fibbing. This was mass collusion into a narrative about danger, threat, darkness and a fate worse than death itself that was not adding up in my family, my community, in any community. I did not doubt that we were dealing with a virus but I did balk at the madness of the sledgehammer that was being used to crack the nut. And I wondered at the madness of surrendering such common freedoms so happily, so readily, just because a stern man with a face mask on told us we were going to die. Of course we are going to die. Most of us though, won't die yet. Get a grip, I wanted to say, get a grip.
Here then is where I began to change my mind. This is what I began to put together.
I belonged to a the part of the country that did not accept leaving the EU. Everything that I heard from the radio, television, newspapers and my friends supported me in this. Not for one moment did I engage in any debate about it, I was living my life through the correct story, brought to me by all the media outlets. Any dissenting voices were beyond contempt. Don't listen to them! They are racists, homophobes, little people with little minds. They will never win. And so, the story from my radio, which I preferred to papers or television, told me the leavers were wrong and the remainers were right, and to take comfort in this. But we did leave. Of course we left. The people telling me my story were wrong, they were actually completely wrong. The leavers won the vote, what was I thinking of? I see now the narrative was utterly skewed. I began to remember my late husband's frustration with the news ("They're all biased!") . It seemed to me that the same spinning of a political narrative was being spun around the new virus. If, I began to ask myself, I do not accept the truth of what I hearing and seeing, how do I find another viewpoint? It became clear that I would have to look long and hard, and when I did find people that questioned the government and media narrative, I would have to keep quiet about it. Other people, people who were where I was only a while ago in their right-think echo chamber, would not tolerate it. Just as I would not tolerate any talk of Brexit.
And now, I am out of the shouting and heaving party and in the garden looking back in. I have changed my mind. It is not so simple as now supporting Brexit, joining the other side, so to speak. It is not so simple as refusing to accept how a new virus causes mayhem to those who are vulnerable to it. It doesn't matter what I think about Brexit, or the virus, that is not the point. What matters is that I have seen how complacent I have been. How easily I have been led. How I did not discern for myself what was happening, and how I liked the comfort of following orders because I agreed with them. How safe I was in my surety. How happily I bought into what the radio told me. How I colluded with my own sense of entitlement. Now, I do not care about leaving the EU. I take everything I hear about the virus with a pinch of salt. I don't listen to the news, the radio, the papers. I limit what I read about the news on all fronts. I think they have an agenda that is not about news. And I do not want to take sides any more, neither for or against Brexit, neither for total house arrest or total freedom, not even right or left in politics. I feel extremely glad to have found my way out of that room of shouting people. I am free out here in the garden looking in, and I can walk away and think my own thoughts now.
Real life image of me walking away to think for myself.
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