You’re a Real Person 

Reading time: 4 minutes
As things start to open up and restrictions continue to lift, Dr Kitty Wheater, Mindfulness Chaplain, explores what it’s like to feel three-dimensional again.

A few times it has happened: the faces we came to know on our screens, washed out by light, sometimes for months at a time, appear in the doorway or the classroom or halfway down Middle Meadow Walk. We make tentative sounds of recognition. The lines and spirit of the face are familiar, the timbre of the voice, heft in the shoulders. And yet there is always difference, too. Someone is taller or shorter than we had imagined; their hair lighter or darker. There is a moment not quite of shock, but of startle. We are flung out of the ordinary slipstream, and we need a second in the new place, to adjust.

These moments are potent places, and things bubble up. Delight, gratitude, joy, tears – all the complexity of connection and aloneness, in the span of a heartbeat. I’ve met students who I know from six months of weekly calls, and staff who read the MindLetter, and people from my online courses. I needed a second glance at one student, who had cut her hair, and to call out to another, who’d walked past me in my mask. On the Meadows early one morning I met a member of staff from my online course, and we laughed over my fabled red joggers, keeping me warm amidst the autumnal chill.

Then there are those we knew before. When I ran into Kat, my mindfulness admin assistant, in the office for the first time in two years, we cried (just the tiniest bit) and hugged (in masks). Seeing a family friend from the south for summer lunch in the Grassmarket reduced me to a gibbering wreck over my burger. With others, there is shyness. The weight of what we have been through together, and what we have missed, hangs lightly in the air. We needn’t always speak of it, and we needn’t always hug; it can be enough, after all this time, just to walk beside each other, and know that we are real.

And that’s the nub of it, that moment of recognition, the startle and stop. We didn’t know it, because it happened so slowly, but sometime in the last two years we forgot that we were real. We got up in the morning and we went to our computers. We sent emails and sat on calls, and typed up ideas, and fed ourselves, and exercised our bodies. We did what we had to do. Some of it was hard, some of it pedestrian, but a lot of the time, we weren’t really there. If we lived alone, we dissolved slowly into the vast space of aloneness, like a pinch of salt in a great sea. If we lived with others, we vanished into the vast space inside ourselves. The land in there goes far, and deep.

Realness still happened, of course; it shocked us with its beauty and pain. Love still happened, illness, loss. And yet at the end of our phones, and sitting at our keyboards, the numbness crept ever further in, like weeds in a deserted garden, like the dark at the end of the day. ‘You’re a real person,’ we say to each other now, and what we mean is, I forgot that I existed.

Existence is a real place. It’s the place of bodies, that sit and walk and laugh alongside each other, that share biscuits over tea in the common-room, or a lunch in celebration of a job well-done. What a relief it is, to remember that we are bodies, and how sobering it is, too. When we are in the presence of other human beings, and look into their eyes and breathe the same breath, we remember all the things that make us human, too. We remember our depth and our vastness, and all the things we know and don’t know about ourselves and each other. Sometimes, it’s so joyful that we can hardly believe we’d ever forgotten. Sometimes, it’s so frightening that all we want is to go back to being alone.

We will find our way, as we come back together. We will remember and forget, arrive and leave, move between the wondrous and the too-much, the familiar and the strange. And we will go gently with it. A garden blooms when it is ready; the dawn, when it comes, is soft.

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Mindfulness lunchtime drop-ins run 1.10 to 1.50pm, Tuesdays online, and Fridays at the Chaplaincy Centre in Bristo Square. Free, no sign-up required, and open to all.

Photography: Sam Sills