It’s National Simplicity Day, an invitation to slow down and reflect. That it comes after 111 days of slowness and reflection, just as the world is slinking its way out of lockdown, is just the kind of punchline 2020 keeps expertly delivering with glee. And yet, as the day approaches, I realise I’ve never needed it more.
National Simplicity Day celebrates the ideas of Henry David Thoreau, a philosopher who had the luxury of taking himself off to live in a cabin in the woods for a while. “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves,” said Thoreau, who was born many, many July the 12ths ago. I understand being lost. His birthday follows, for me, the day of greatest loss, a day which persists in sneaking up on me like the proverbial bricks, even though, this year, I’ve had 111 days of slowness and reflection to brace.
July glides out so smoothly from behind the shine of June that I again fall for the trick, plummeting over trip wire into the black hole that refuses to close. This year, a family funeral magnifies the awfulness and, after 111 days of lockdown sunshine, not even the weather can be kind. I drive home through a monsoon to the news of yet another family death. July, it seems, not April, is the cruellest month.
And I realise I’ve forgotten the basics of getting through July; of booking time off and driving somewhere far away to hurt, and to heal, because it’s been so long since I’ve driven anywhere far away that the thought has simply stopped occurring to me. After 111 days of being unable to hug a friend, or my parents, I’ve retreated into a shell and not noticed that it’s starting to splinter.
Yet the cornerstones are still there. I start Red July – Run Every Day – in hope of re-finding my jogging mojo. I don’t plan to break records, or even my own, plodding PB; just to head out every day with a vague plan to run. Sometimes I run slowly, uphill. Sometimes I run just a mile and sometimes I return to my go-to routes and surprise myself by clocking up 5Ks in near pre-lockdown times. And I risk running with someone lovely, who’s as good a runner as he is everything else, and somehow manage the fastest split kilometre of my life.
Lockdown promises to end on July 6 in Wales, so I sneak off a day early to my favourite mountain, the bowl high above the Swansea Valley where few ever go. I wonder if, with all those other mountains closed, mine would be newly discovered by the other-mountain crowds, but, no. After passing one other person early on (another solo female hiker, yay!) I tab along, with the vastness and the views entirely to myself for 10 marvellous miles. After 111 days of local walks, it’s magical.
For someone who makes my resolutions in November, National Simplicity Day is a reminder that I need to renew in July, too. Because, despite the narrowed horizon and the lack of hugs, there is so much of lockdown I want to keep. While my November resolutions are a chance to look ahead and set the pace, July is my time to slow; a month not to plan what I should be doing, but an opportunity to reflect on the things filling my life that I simply don’t need to do.
“The question is not what you look at, but what you see,” said Thoreau. From the top of my mountain, lifting slightly on my toes in stiff July gusts, I see an unfaltering sky and not a soul. I can’t go live in a cabin in the woods (I suspect Thoreau didn’t have two teens and a dog in need of their tea) but I can carve out my space and make time to stop. Not for two years, granted, but for just long enough to reset the clock.