Who would have thought back in March that in January, we'd be facing this madness all over again? To say it's been a hard year would be an understatement but as we go into yet another period of increasing uncertainty and isolation, I was reminded of a story adaptation I wrote during the first lockdown.
The story of Jenny and Jo is based on the biblical account of Mary and Martha in the Gospel of Luke (chapter 10, verses 38-42). Jesus comes to visit the home of two sisters. Mary chooses to sit with Jesus and listen to Him while Martha rushes around the house like a lunatic (the 'lunatic' part is not from scripture but just how I imagine it!) trying to make sure everything was ready. Martha got frustrated with Mary and asked Jesus to tell Mary to help her. But Jesus responded - "you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed 0r indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better." It struck me that in our modern world, we can become so distracted by everything 'that needs to be done' or 'could be done' or 'we failed to do' that we risk missing what we really need. This led me to write a 2020 'Lockdown' adaptation about Jenny and Jo, young women who share a house together.
Writing their story was a reminder to slow down, don't focus and get obsessive about so many things, instead focus on what's truly important. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with hard work, productivity and making an impact, in fact they are good things. But, if we're honest, do they hold too much power over our self-worth and value, and how that affects our mood and behaviours? What should we really focus on and value most? Just a few thoughts - here's my adaptation. I hope you enjoy it.
Jenny and Jo in Lockdown
In some ways, Jenny was happy about this social distancing lark. She loves people, but they’re also such a time soak. Now she will be more productive than ever. The house will be swept clean, she will hoover that stretch of carpet behind the bed; the garden will look more presentable and the kitchen cupboards will be in ship shape. She could read that book where only the second page had its corner turned down or even continue with her poor attempt to start a blog. She could jog and practice yoga or begin the Joe Wicks program. What an opportunity to lose those few pounds. #stayathome - what a God send, she thought.
It was now week three. Jenny had achieved some things; she had just got to page ten of that book. She closed it as she jumped out of bed at 8.00am on Friday morning. Work had been a strain. Busier than ever. That was good. Busy was good. Though she could not see how updating websites gave her any credibility. She was not a key worker. Why can’t she be furloughed? Maybe then she could volunteer for the NHS and the clap on Thursday nights may hold a percentage for her. She knew that was selfish, but having always been a high-flyer, she had to be significant in this crisis somehow. I’ll write an inspiring and motivational blog post, she decided as she slipped into her joggers.
Let’s go. Let’s get on. She chanted to herself as she double stepped the staircase down to the kitchen. Get porridge. Cup of tea. Computer. Blog. Achievement.
Her plan was instantly attacked once she saw the kitchen. What a state. Jo had been cooking late last night, and the evidence was all there. Still. Not an inch of the artificial wooden worktop could be seen. Other than the spots in between the handles of pans and the edges of dirty, food-encrusted bowls. Groaning out loud with a rising anger tightening her face and lips, Jenny stepped heavy footed over to the cupboard. She threw it open. As she suspected, no clean bowls. She looked over to the dishwasher. Will it have been put on? The dishwasher door swings down, and the site of the tomato covered plates, and crumb-covered knives and forks sticking dangerously skyward sends her over the edge. “She’s such a lazy cow’, she said through grinding teeth. With no conscious thought, she grabbed the plastic jug with sides splatted with custard, and violently filled it with water. Marching up the stairs, she chunters. If Jo did not spend so much time reading, lying on the sofa, or talking to her weirdo friends, family, boyfriend, the neighbours across the fence and every other man and his dog, maybe I wouldn’t have to clean up after her.
Jenny bounded into her housemate’s bedroom and with little self-control or remorse she emptied the contents of the jug over sleeping Jo’s head.
Jo’s blue eyes are forced quickly open. Her mouth is pulled agape as the water rushes down her face and neck. Bits of old custard latch themselves onto her hair.
“Jenny, what the? Is that…the custard?” Jo squirms and grimaces as she pulls on parts of her hair and observes the sticky custard now clinging between her fingers. Jenny stood panting, still holding the jug in her hand. It felt fragile in her fingers as they lost their strength and the jug fell quickly to the floor. Looking at Jo now, sat up in her purple floral pyjamas and at her pudding painted hair, she started to laugh. Hysterically.
“Jen, what…” Jo then started to giggle as she watched her friend lose her balance, and steady herself down to the ground using the radiator. The two of them laughed for a few more seconds until Jenny thought of the blog. The blog she had not started. She could feel herself beginning to shake, her frustration mounting again. The laughter quickly turned to tears. Hysterical tears. She could not take it anymore. All this pressure to get things done, and not just spend her days binge-watching Brooklyn 99 or Friends, which is all she wanted to do. Just once.
Jo was out of bed now, walking over to her friend. She shrieked a little as her movement inspired the cold water to fall from her hair down her back. “Jenny, what’s going on?” She placed her hand on Jenny’s shoulder.
“The kitchen. Why did you leave it like that? I’ve cleaned it so much over the past week and you’ve just left it like that.” Jenny wiped the tears away and could feel the red rings around her eyes.
“I’m…sorry. I was just baking late. I am dropping a trifle round to Gran later. She needed cheering up. I didn’t think it would matter if I…”
“Well it does matter.” Jenny said in defiance as she stood and left Jo on the floor. “I just feel like you’re not pulling your weight with things. I want to get on and then the kitchen is like…” Jenny stopped herself and then mumbled her next words. “You’re always on your phone or reading. Never helping.” Jenny breathed heavily and felt a weight fall off her shoulders as if she had finally said the words she'd wanted to for weeks.
“Jen, why are you so obsessed with doing stuff?” Jo said as she now faced Jenny and sat at the end of the bed. “I have helped out where I needed to, and I’ve been working. But the house doesn’t always need to be clean, just because we have the time now. You can relax. That is okay, you know.” Jenny felt tears coming again but noticed the blob of custard just sitting patiently on the end of Jo’s chin. She laughed and smiled feebly. Then she thought about what Jo said. The answer was she did not know. Why was she so obsessed with getting things done? Anything done. At all. Just to make her feel better.
“When was the last time you rang your Mum? Or Casey? Or anyone?” Jo asked, now walking over to her dressing table, and seeing herself in the mirror for the first time. She gasped and laughed then too.
“I’m sorry.” Jenny said sincerely. “And I briefly WhatsApped Mum yesterday. I still need to ring Casey back.”
“Why don’t you just spend today talking to them? They’d probably be happy to hear from you.” Jo suggested.
“But I was going to write a blog, and maybe then some yoga, or go for a jog and then do some work, I’ve got a project next…”
“Jenny, Jenny.” Jo grabbed both of Jenny’s arms to grab all her attention. “Stop worrying about all that stuff that doesn’t really matter. Everything is so insane right now. We have another three weeks of this. Do you really want to spend it like this? Just spend the time to help some people just by being there. Even if it is just doing a quiz with them or something. I am not just on my phone scrolling Instagram you know. It’s your relationships that matter. Just try it. You might find you feel better and achieve more because of it.”
Jenny nodded her head but struggled in her mind. She had more time, why wouldn’t she fill it with more stuff? But maybe Jo had a point. She could spend this time letting her mind be still. She could reflect on the good things, rather than always rushing or clogging up her head. And yeah, maybe she should reach out to others. Could that be her greatest achievement of all?