Praying is a strange business if you're an atheist or, as in my case, an agnostic. In the normal rhythm of life's ups and downs, there is no call for prayer for the non-religious, in fact it can be years between prayers. Then something terrifying beckons and you drop to your knees, pleading with an invisible entity that probably does not exist, for help.
The old adage springs to mind 'there are no atheists on the battlefield' or similar situations in extremis. For atheists, there is no chance that God can hear you and will intervene to alleviate your worst fears. But it doesn't really matter. You don't have to be a believer for prayer to work for you. Praying has its personal benefits. You talk out loud to an imaginary listener who doesn't interrupt or judge. You can be your true self in that circumstance, emotionally fragile, nakedly honest with complete trust in your 'listener'. You can address your deepest fears with the undivided attention of the 'listener' and feel less fear when you rise to your feet.
I had my 'battlefield' moment last week. I pleaded with God to spare my one-year-old grandchild, Helena, who was seriously ill in St Thomas' Hospital in London. Her tiny wee body on intravenous antibiotics, on morphine, a temperature of 40 degrees, and subjected to several failed lumbar punctures to test for bacterial meningitis. Eventually, she was put under a general anaesthetic to get the precious spinal fluid. It would take 48 hours for results. These were the worst two days of our family's lives. My husband rushed to London to support our daughter and son-in-law. I paced around our flat in Glasgow, unable to rush headlong to the danger – as most parents do when their offspring is in crisis – because of the wretched coronavirus.
When the results landed, it was confirmed that Helena did not have bacterial meningitis but the less dangerous viral type as a result of particularly nasty infections. Our family from Vancouver to North Wales cheered with a relief I've never experienced before. If we had lost her, the wreckage would have been total. Was her recovery a result of God's intervention of my prayers? No, I don't believe that. But the activity is so strangely comforting that I always promise to explore the phenomenon. One day I will.
Two weeks after receiving the Oxford vaccine, my arm is still painful and inflamed. Although niggled, I am not worried as there are no other symptoms. Two days before my granddaughter was rushed to hospital, she had received the MMR and meningitis vaccines. Was there a connection? I was more than niggled. In truth, we don't know, and clinicians are reluctant to make one. They are likely cautious that any serious post-vaccination symptoms can lead to vaccine-worry generally, and it's critical that as many people as possible are vaccinated against COVID-19. You'll recall the panic stirred by an irresponsible doctor erroneously linking MMR to autism, which led to many children not being vaccinated against these dangerous diseases.
My granddaughter was diagnosed with parechovirus, parainfluenza and viral meningitis. It is probably wise that we explore whether these could have been a severe reaction to her vaccinations. Not so that any blame be attached, but to feel confident that the same reaction won't occur with boosters scheduled in six months. Of course, it is vital to add that if her illness was due to an adverse reaction to her vaccinations, it is an extremely rare occurrence. And anyway, it could also be an unfortunate coincidence.
How many people feel institutionalised in their own home during this latest and most wearing of lockdowns so far? I certainly do, as do many of my family and friends. Although sick to the back teeth of the inside of my home, I feel slightly anxious leaving it for shopping or a walk. To make matters worse, if I see someone I know, I want to scurry in the opposite direction. All this business of being social animals by nature doesn't account for the gradual retreat into anti-social behaviour enjoyed by many. Recidivism has begun to make some sense. Although often bored and fed up, when I do venture out, relief ensues when returning to the safety of home.
As far as the eye can see
What I do miss is countryside. There is an upsurge of people getting out of the city, buying property in Rothesay and other less built-up areas. I don't blame them. Being confined in a tenement in a city with nowhere to go is not pleasant, even if it's a splendid tenement in the West End. We're lucky as our Southside tenement faces an open space where I can see the magnificent 'Greek' Thomson Moray Place, and upwards to the top of Queen's Park. If I were staring across into another tenement, I'd lose the last vestiges of mental healthiness.
At the top of Queen's Park, I can see a large area of Glasgow and the Campsies in the far distance. When the eyes are confined to distances not further than six feet, which is the case in most homes, adjusting them to great distances is a lovely sensation. It's as though your thirsty visual cortex that processes visual information has been given a much-needed jug of water.
I long to take my visual and auditory cortexes a walk on Prestwick beach so that they can enjoy gazing at the sea, the distant horizon, while listening to the waves and swooping, whooping gulls. It doesn't seem a lot to ask but in these unprecedented times, it certainly feels like it.