Now that the restrictions are easing, we must not forget the past, but cherish this experience while we "come back to life"
You might picture a Scandinavian winter as dark and intense. And as a native Swede, I enjoy cosying up under a woollen blanket with a book and a cup of herbal tea in a room lit mostly by candles, as much as any hygge fan. But when it comes to powerful seasonal memories, I actually have a very different image. It's of the leftover sandy grit, used to prevent slipping and skidding on the roads, which would remain on the dry spring pavements after the snow and ice had melted. I can remember the sound it made under my shoes – so different from the sound of all that winter snow.
As we re-enter the world after coronavirus restrictions, this seems relevant in two ways. One is the way we humans crave novelty and new experiences, particularly after a time of restraint. The other is a feeling of gratitude. In the case of the Swedish spring, gratitude that this simple substance had kept us safe from the lethal winter roads, and – as the sun rose higher and higher in the sky, releasing us from that period of freezing temperatures and deep darkness – that it was now no longer needed.
Returning to the world now that the coronavirus restrictions are easing – where I live in Dublin, at least – feels a lot like that. The experience of stepping out the door knowing that there are no – or fewer – limits on us, is profound. It's a release. A liberation. But as we follow the temptation to plunge headlong into the future and grab the new experiences available to us with both hands, let's not forget that sense of appreciation, respect and gratitude for what we have, and the ways in which we kept it safe.
“Let's not forget that sense of appreciation, respect and gratitude for what we have, and the ways in which we kept it safe”.
I wrote a book back in 2017 about the Swedish concept of lagom. The imperfect translation of this untranslatable term – “not too little, not too much, but just enough” – has its limitations, making many think that it's all about moderation. But lagom is about so much more than that. It's about consensus and neighbourliness, an agreement that no individual greatness is worthwhile without connection, that we are stronger together and no one must be left behind.
You could say that my second book, which looked at morning rituals, echoed this sentiment, albeit in a less explicit way. It built on the Swedish tradition of gökotta, of rising early to listen to the first birdsong – on paper a meditative ritual of presence and appreciation of the simple things in life, but in practice something that grew out of communities that looked out for each other. Communities who would take a flask of coffee to the local woods and knock on the doors of lonely elders on the way to make sure they got a breath of fresh air as well as a nod and a smile.
Rituals help us and, during that first lockdown, I clung to the power of ritual more than ever: every evening, regardless of the weather, I spent an hour or two power-walking around the 2km area we were allowed to roam, clearing my head and taking stock, making sure that I was still hanging in there despite it all. Then the world started to open up and I clung to my ritual even more tightly. It wasn't the morning's first birdsong, but it was mindfulness in action – an hour to escape the mental stresses of work deadlines, domestic chores and social media “self-realisation” pressures.
But that other element of ritual is about community. And that's something else that I felt deeply in life under lockdown. Time and again, I found myself talking to neighbours in the park about their hopes and fears, their dinner plans and struggles with kids, feeling more present than ever before. More aware of the beautiful community of caring people I was living among. And realising that I'd always missed this because I was always too busy; too busy with what?
We're all a little anxious as our worlds are slowly growing again, unsure whether to elbow bump or brave a hug, but I think we see each other in a new way now. Much like the winter grit left on a dry spring road, the lockdown memories in our bones remind us of what we have – and what we could so easily lose. My sons run off into the woods with their friends after school and an intensity lifts as they can be unapologetically, authentically their age with their peers again, finally, leaving their parents behind them feeling acutely grateful. Grateful for their children's health. Grateful for the homes and support systems that made lockdown workable. And grateful for the communities of other people we always had, but perhaps used to take for granted.
“The lockdown memories in our bones remind us of what we have – and what we could so easily lose”, “We must meet up soon,” we all used to say to each other pre-pandemic, on repeat without really meaning it. I feel like we mean it now. The coffee date invites are somehow more in earnest. And while things might go back to normal on some superficial level, I think we'll keep recognising and appreciating what we have around us. In our enforced isolation, we rediscovered the beauty of things we've taken for granted for so long. And now, we're rediscovering the beauty of sharing those treasures with each other – of the good morning smiles and the coffee chats. Because, as the lagom idealist would say, no individual greatness is worthwhile without connection.
Linnea Dunne is a Swedish writer and editor based in Dublin with her husband and two children. She writes about Nordic culture, innovation and trends, and has also been published in the Irish Times, Irish Independent and Guardian. She has written two books: Lagom: The Swedish Art of Balanced Living and Good Mornings: Rituals for Wellness, Peace and Purpose.