Updated: Sep 9
Image© by Caroline Pover
UKCVFamily's Picnic in the Park
- by Caroline Pover
I spent a day in London last month and, as is my new life, I had no idea whether I’d be able to make it until I was actually on the train, and I had no idea what state I’d be in afterwards.
I hate London — the last time I went was for an old friend’s fiftieth birthday and I was appalled at the extent of the homelessness there, none of the public transport services seemed to be working properly, and a very married friend from uni pretended to be chilvarous by walking me to the station only to hit on me as I was waiting for the train. I couldn’t wait to get home and said I’d never go again.
So it was for a very special reason that myself, Matthew, and Chia took the train to London on July 16th — it was to meet up with my beloved new friends and fellow members of UKCVFamily! Those of us that were well enough to attend, anyway.
We have been wanting to do “something” as a group for a while. Something where we could reach out to the public and let people know that we exist. We hear about protests, marches, or events that are supposed to be about us but we are rarely involved in them and if we are, we aren’t well enough to attend anyway. So we decided to organise our own event that took into account our limited capabilities — a Picnic in the Park. So if those of us who made it were unable to do much more than that, we could literally just lie on the floor the entire time and not need to do a thing!
Wayne was there first — having travelled the furthest from the Midlands and navigated his way around London in the wheelchair he is growing accustomed to. Brian was waiting there with him by the time I got there and I couldn’t wait to give them both a big hug. When you’ve spent most of this year regularly talking to people who just GET IT, it’s easy to forget that you haven’t even met in person before. It really did feel like I was meeting up with old friends.
We weren’t just there to socialise though. We had created posters of over a hundred of our members, which we strung together and hung along the railings at the Speaker’s Corner entrance to Hyde Park. We sat our picnic down just far enough away from the posters for curious passersby to feel they had the space to look — we weren’t there to intimidate or pressure anyone. We just wanted to let people know that we exist.
The posters drew a lot of attention, and when I saw people spending a lot of time studying them, I went over and gently told them that some of us were actually here if they wanted to talk about anything. Some people smiled politely but didn’t want to talk. Some were surprised that we were actually real people and I wondered if some people think that these stories about the injured are made up? I was surprised at the number of people who hadn’t had it and wanted to discuss its science. Some told me stories of their own friends or family who were injured so it was nice to be able to point them in the direction of UKCVFamily so we can help them.
But the person I will never forget is the woman from Israel. Visibly distressed with tears in her eyes and her voice shaking with anger, she held her child tightly to her, and told me about how she was coerced into it in order to keep her job, even though she never wanted it. And about how she ended up fleeing her country when it became mandatory for children. I can’t imagine how that must feel.
In the current situation, we have to put a lot of effort into thinking about how others feel — how does it feel to still be isolating? To be afraid of getting sick? To believe with all your heart that your government is doing the right thing? To believe they are doing the wrong thing? To be working in the medical profession and actively participating in the rollout? Or to be in that same profession and be vehemently against it? Is our current social climate presenting us with the biggest test of collective empathy that we’ve ever known?
I wonder if we’re only going to get through it if we make that effort to understand how people feel. To learn about another’s perspective. To step outside what the mainstream media is telling us — and yes, to step outside what new media is telling us too. To bring it back to human experience, human connection, and human kindness. Maybe even remembering what it was like when we were society’s outsiders?
Two of my non-injured friends joined our picnic. Two gay men, married to each other. They know what it is like to be society’s outsiders. In recent weeks I had told them that the language we use in our particular group of outcasts mirrors language used within their community. We talk about “coming out” and “allies” too. Some of our members won’t sign up to the Public Enquiry for fear that their names will be in a public space and their friends and family will find out. Perhaps they have told some people who responded by not mentioning it ever again. By pretending they don’t know. Since I told my gay friends this they said that they now look at our situation with more empathy. They are more curious. They want to learn more. They read every single one of the stories that were swaying in the breeze at Hyde Park. Our conversations are much more open. I like to think that our friendship is more meaningful because of it.
You don’t need to be pro or anti any particular medical procedure or philosophy to create meaningful relationships. You just need to be pro-compassion and pro-connection. That’s what UKCVFamily’s Picnic in the Park was all about — nurturing love and kindness amongst strangers, amongst existing friends, and amongst our own members.
My world has felt a little less lonely ever since.
Copyright Caroline Pover, published initially at https://carolinepover.com/blog/f/ukcvfamilys-picnic-in-the-park.
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