When we began ‘I remember’, I said that, although we must honour the dead, together we must also make this a living artwork, because the pandemic isn’t over. How could it be, given the choice to allow the virus to periodically surges through us.
It isn’t over for the mother, who wrote me saying she, her two daughters, and their two fathers, are still shielding in their small world.
It isn’t over for the nurse, who wrote me saying, we’re almost at Dad’s three-year anniversary – I still miss him every single day.
It isn’t over for the Post Office worker, who wrote asking me to add her husband’s name, with love from her and their son, and that I should say he was open-hearted.
It isn’t over for the nurses, chapping on the door of Number 10, because Long Covid isn’t defined as a workplace injury – a base lie – and their futures are uncertain.
It isn’t over for Katie, who says:
I know it isn’t over; I recently caught Covid for the third time. I’m still recovering enough breath to read this.
It isn’t over because, this past week, so many people I know marked three years of chronic illness. They still have no medical help.
For most people lockdown was a time of constraint, worry, and also clarity: we were told, this is how we support one another. Some people continued to provide care, despite risks to their life and health.
There are people for whom lockdown felt stoically comforting, knowing others were sharing the limits that defined their lives.
The pandemic was – still is for many – a time of loss, grief, and worry; a time of kindness and neighbourliness; a time of loneliness and reflection.
Above all, the early seasons of the pandemic were a time of commonality, solidarity, and, in the motif of this memorial, support.
The pandemic revealed poverty and injustice – which communities are denied clean air, which can relax among trees, feeling the grass soft against their palms.
It must be admitted, today of all days, we have fallen away from that ideal of solidarity. We have lost the aspiration to create a world that is more just because it is defined by vulnerability, rather than privilege.
So, so many people have been left behind. Some, who lost loved ones, feel there will never be a reckoning; others must bear the strange change in their body, from strength to weakness, losing the ability to walk, work, play football with their child – all the ordinary joys which defined their lives.
Some, like my friend Garry, have the courage to face this difficult question:
how we carry
what others see
me, I hold it
but he, he
has the bravery
why not me?
Why not me? Why not my health that fails; why not my home that needs repair, why not my wages that cannot feed my family and heat my home.
This empathic understanding, that we – any of us, the we and the me – can fall into poverty, illness, or vulnerability, inspired the welfare state.
Today, who among us believes the government in London will support the newly disabled? Who among us anticipates the targeting of those on benefits? Today who among us believes this country can help 170,00 people with Long Covid when it hasn’t created a single dedicated clinic?
The scientists who stood alongside our politicians, offering some guarantee of truth, are gone. Smoke and mirrors, saying over and over the pandemic is over, doesn’t make it over.
This living memorial, woven into the trees of this much-loved landscape, asks that we remember lost loved ones, those who carry grief in their hearts, and the vulnerable – together and without exceptions.
When I invited people to record their memories, the brief touching stories they told created a collective book of remembrance and, if we are to return to the aspiration of a kinder fairer world, that text would be a true place to begin from.
I’d like to thank everyone who helped create and install the forty support artworks, and the memorial walk that you can make between them.