A couple of years ago, I started an online course on the issues of global terrorism with St Andrews University. My job at the time involved sitting in a hotel corridor, looking after a Middle Eastern dignitary, who was visiting the capital for an indefinite period. The days turned into weeks, which soon became months and my mind was quickly turning to mush. I thought it might be wise to use the period as productively as possible and so shelled out no small amount of money to enroll in the program. To my surprise, I actually enjoyed it. I have never been much of an academic, largely due to my appalling memory and somewhat hyperactive disposition, but if the subject holds my attention, I can occasionally surprise myself.
In order to receive the Certificate in Terrorism Studies, I needed to complete four modules, each scored by a 50-question multiple-choice test, and a 2500-word essay. I managed to complete three of the four modules, laptop perched on knee, outside the door of my somewhat agoraphobic client. The fourth and final module, however, sat on my to-do list for the next two years!
Last November, I decided to try and get the thing done and signed up to complete the final unit. I had three months to finish it and so dedicated a couple of hours a week to expanding my knowledge on the ‘Protection of Personnel Working in Hostile Environments’.
I managed to complete the test paper at the start of December, but with Christmas just around the corner, I thought it wise to take a break and save finishing the essay for the new year. I was almost done, with only the conclusion and referencing to complete before I could submit it.
And so, at the start of January, I put a weekend aside to finish the paper and complete my studies with St Andrew’s. When the time came, I was surprised to find that the essay was no longer in the desktop folder where I’d left it. A cold sweat began to form, and I felt my stomach drop (Shock). I searched the laptop’s hard drive with all the key phrases that I could think of, but there was no sign of it. My heart rate doubled and then doubled again. Ironically, on the previous day, I had emptied my desktop trashcan due to a lack of storage space on my computer. Unfortunately, I hadn’t checked the trashcan, nor had I backed the computer up since long before Christmas.
It began to dawn on me that I must have accidentally thrown away the document and overwritten any chance of its recovery. I searched and searched and even downloaded some expensive file recovery software and then some more. After hours of hunting, I finally discovered the file, but it was now corrupted and unreadable. There was simply no other choice , but to start all over again.
At first, I utterly rejected this option (Anger). I was mad at God. With all the injustice I have borne witness to in my life, nothing at that precise moment rose above the wrongdoing he had put upon me. “Please Lord, just do a miracle and let me find the file somewhere. I haven’t got time to start all over again. I’m a very busy man, you know that! Listen, if you do this for me, I will do anything you ask in return” (Bargaining) I was quite literally going through the seven stages of grief, all because I had deleted an essay for a module that I had chosen to study at my own expense and for no other purpose than my education and entertainment, the completion of which was entirely inconsequential. The achievement was not going to lead to a promotion, and I would almost certainly never be asked to produce any evidence of it, like every other qualification I’ve spent time and money on. Madness and a completely irrational response – but for a couple of days, maybe even a week, it consumed me. (Depression).
Eventually, I realised I had better just crack on and start again; the sooner I did, the sooner it would be finished (Acceptance). Yes, I’d lost a couple of days work, but the second draft was most likely an improvement on the first and the sense of achievement was unquestionably greater when I finally submitted the thing and received my certificate a few weeks later – a piece of paper, which now sits in a folder with other pieces of paper, collecting dust.
For the first few weeks of living in the Corona Virus Lockdown, I have recognised my emotions pass through these familiar landmarks once more. I’m not sure I have reached acceptance yet and with every sad story I’m made aware of, I feel catapulted back to begin the process all over again. It’s almost like a game of snakes and ladders; when I think I’ve reached the top, I slide back into anger and denial.
The advantage, however, of reaching acceptance, is that it tends to be accompanied by gratitude. And gratitude is important at this time – a time, quite unlike any other in modern history, when we are called to take stock of our lives and identify all that really matters: relationships, communities, the care and consideration of others. I am grateful at this time for my family, my friends, my home, my experiences, my time spent overseas, my access to food, water, health care, the internet! I’m grateful to the NHS and its staff, who keep calm and carry on, whilst the rest of us bolt our doors and hibernate. I’m grateful for the cleaners, garbage collectors, delivery drivers and food banks, who keep the country going.
I hope desperately, when this is all over, and it will one day be over, that I will never take for granted the chance to travel, to meet friends for coffee, to stand in a queue, to do almost anything outside beyond my one piece of daily exercise!
With the restrictions on businesses, it may not surprise you to learn that we have lost 100% of our wholesale orders at Blue Bear Coffee Co. but I must say that I’m grateful for the individuals who have come to us to stock up their shelves. I’m also grateful for the team at the roastery, who are keeping the wheels turning and our business alive. And I’m grateful to you, for reaching the end of this blog. As we’re warned that things are likely to get worse before they get better, I hope that I won’t forget to keep being grateful for all that life has given me – so far.
Written by Bryn Frere-Smith
Founder of Blue Bear Coffee Co.