To be able to do all we can to help those we love through this world is perhaps life’s greatest gift.
I stand in front of you
I’ll take the force of the blow
These beautiful words meant the world to me in my 20s. They are a gift to anyone who hears them. I hadn’t thought about them for an unforgivably long time. Until they were brought back to me a few weeks ago. These words are sung by Tracey Thorn on the title track from Massive Attack’s Protection album – a record that always seems to be playing if I cast my mind back to the mid-1990s. I remember the awed hush that fell over the room when Thorn stepped out to sing this song when I saw Massive Attack at London’s Hammersmith Palais on Tuesday 16 May 1995. One of the greatest live music moments of my life.*
“Tracey Thorn delivers some of the most profound, touching and revelatory lyrical observations about feminism, child abuse and gender to have ever touched pop. […] You had to be there, in the meltingly hot 1994 summer, to experience it properly and unforgettably.”
I stand in front of you
I received the loveliest birthday gift this year. On my birthday and quite out of the blue, my wife received an NHS text message inviting her to book her first coronavirus vaccine jab. I have rarely seen such joy and such relief on her face. This was one of the greatest moments of my life. It still makes me tear up to think about it. At last she had the hope of some level of protection from the virus that was and is sweeping this planet of ours.
I felt a weight start to lift from my shoulders. That was back in early March 2021, soon after the start of the UK’s national vaccine roll-out programme. My wife was offered her jab early on as she is on a special register due to health issues. Because of the particular risk to her health from the coronavirus, we have both all but withdrawn from the world for the entirety of the pandemic. Protection through a total halting of regular life.
Late last month, I was at last able to book my two vaccination jabs. I felt an incredible surge of emotion the moment the booking confirmation came through. Again, the feeling of a weight just beginning to lift from my shoulders. A weight so crushing, but also so constant that I hadn’t even realised that it had been there all this time, underpinning and colouring all things. I could not have predicted just how emotional it would feel.
I had my first jab last weekend, on Sunday 2 May 2021. The immediate after-effects of the injection were unpleasant (exhaustion, made worse by aches and pains and a sleepless night alternating between feelings of shivering cold and sweltering heat), but no worse than unpleasant. I feel nothing but thankful. I am nothing but appreciative of the infinite good fortune to be alive right now, and to have had the gift of the vaccination.
It will be a long time before the weight on all of our shoulders finally lifts. Perhaps it will never lift. We have all been through so much. We are all going through so much. The world remains in a terrifying and precarious state, with the coronavirus pandemic surging in the most horrific way in India and other places.*** A Channel 4 News report from India this week included the impossibly upsetting image of a woman who was forced to use a tuk tuk taxi to transport the body of her husband – who had just died from coronavirus – to a place where he could be cremated. It brought tears to my eyes to see this.
None of us can protect everyone in this world. But we can each of us do what we can for those nearest to us, and those on whose lives we touch.
To be able to do all you can to help those you love through this world is perhaps life’s greatest gift. No matter the circumstances.
Protect who you can, help to uplift whoever you can. Do anything you can to bring even a tiny sliver of joy or a moment’s simple relief to whoever you can today. Be nothing but kind to anyone and everyone you may meet today.
If you have yet to be able to book a vaccination jab, I sincerely hope that the opportunity arrives soon for you.
May today be nothing but kind to you and yours.
* Brian Eno’s remix of Protection is also wonderful – a different and gentle take on the same lovely song.
** Then Play Long is a blog in which Marcello Carlin has set himself the huge task of writing about every UK number one album in history, plus occasional digressions to contemporaneous records of note that didn’t make it to the toppermost of the proverbial poppermost, such as Protection. I cannot recommend Carlin’s blog sufficiently highly. He writes with great insight and great depth of autobiographical truth and feeling in every single post.
*** The Red Cross website has an article entitled Coronavirus in India: the epicentre of the pandemic, which includes a link to donate to their Global Coronavirus Appeal. Please consider making a donation, if you are able to.