Still(a)Life#33: Ships in the Night

Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing,
Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness;
So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another,
Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.

This is an extract from a 1874 poem that left us with the figure of speech “like ships that pass in the night”. On any normal day, when you look out of our bedroom window, you’ll find an average of four ships within our line of sight. Tonight there are 18. They sit there like ghosts of a struggling economy, already long gone. In the stillness of the morning, you can hear the drone of some of their engines as they leave a streak of polluted air across the horizon. At night their lights blink at us – beacons from a world beyond our lockdown.

But there are entire worlds unfolding inside our private lockdowns. This week I have read a letter from a person wanting to leave their spouse; a letter from a spouse that has already had the courage to leave; a letter confronting an abuser in the past; a letter to celebrate a new found comfort in sexuality and excitement for the future; a letter about unrequited love and the fear of loneliness; a letter about despondence with a partner’s lockdown drinking; a letter from a past client, savouring life, despite lockdown…to name just a few.

If there is something you have been neglecting: a feeling; a conversation; a bad habit; a chapter in your past; a role you reluctantly play in the lives of those you love; or a hope for your future – it is likely to make itself known during this period. There is only so much alcohol left in your cupboard or laps you can do around the garden. My concern is for how shutting these things down inevitably shuts us out from those around us. This gives rise to a whole different kind of isolation. We so easily become those “ships in the night” to one another. Individual vessels that give nothing but a “look and a voice” towards one another.
It’s become common place to talk a bit about the reality of covid19 at the start of every session. Fifteen minutes into a very valuable discussion on the state of things, a client apologises for wanting to turn to matters “on my doorstep”. I reassured her that it is these matters “on our doorsteps” that are more important than ever. I think we had the fantasy that as the world went into crisis, these “doorstep” issues would easily be swept under a mat of comparative irrelevance. It seems quite the opposite – they have become more relevant than ever.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *