Someone witty has spotted the similarity between online meetings, and attending a séance: Elizabeth, are you there? We can see you, but we can’t hear you. Can you hear us? Funnily enough, last time there was a boom in seances was almost exactly a hundred years ago, after the 1918 flu pandemic. It seems that a national brush with mortality makes the veil between life and death feel so thin that people want to try to contact those they’ve lost.
I think this very human need to reconnect with loved ones is why the TV programme The Repair Shop has become such compulsive lockdown viewing. In it, people bring in cherished items for restoration. Later, they return to the repair shop to retrieve their mended possessions; then the tears start: the feel of the leather or the wood, the sound of the mechanism or the tune; the smell of the inside, or the fulfilment of a promise to a long-dead father: it’s like having him back, they say.
It must feel like cheating the cycle of life and death, that shock of a feeling of real presence. And after a long dark winter, all these spring bulbs poking through the bare earth can feel like the triumph of life over death too. While the spring festival of Easter celebrates all of this abundant new life with eggs and bunnies, and the story of the resurrection, the Christian tradition puts a break on our spring giddiness first, with this season of Lent. And the Repair Shop feels like a metaphor for Lent to me: we bring forward our broken and tatty selves, hoping for a process of transformation, and can feel overwhelmed by the generosity of the response we ultimately receive.
But whether or not we see spiritual parallels in the programme, it’s a great comfort for all who mourn. We can bring people back, in our memories, and one way to do that is through physical prompts like old pictures and possessions. Whether it’s getting out that ancient photograph album, turning Dad’s old tie into a belt, or wearing your Granny’s pinny next time you bake scones, these very tangible memories can help us to remember the dead daily, so they remain part of the fabric of our everyday lives.
I have been delivering “Thought For The Day” pieces on BBC Radio Scotland since November 2016. By kind permission these pieces are reproduced in blog posts here on my website. To find my other pieces click here go to my Thought For The Day index page.