I live on the top floor of a three-storey Edinburgh tenement. I like to joke it’s the penthouse. It’s located on the border between one of the more well-off parts of the city, and the place where ‘Trainspotting’ was set and filmed. There are a Tesla cars, and there are junkies also. So it goes.
Each room in our flat is light and airy with high ceilings and large windows which look out to the sky and the rooftops of the buildings opposite. When lockdown proper began everything got real quiet. No traffic noise, no planes, no chatter from people meeting on the street; no pulsing music or clanking delivery trucks. Just the unfolding space of silence.
And the seagulls.
The shore is not far from us, so the seagulls are a constant. They seem to particularly like our street, I’m not sure why. Maybe the crossroads we live above creates favourable air currents. Maybe the nearby fish and chip shop has the choicest garbage. Maybe they’re just used to it. Whatever the reason, every morning and evening is marked by their curving flight and gutteral cries.
Sometime during lockdown a few of them had babies. The first thing we noticed were the new cries, higher and more insistent than the rest. Then, one evening during dinner, we saw them for the first time. A group of tiny dark bodies nestled on the roof opposite. Over the next few weeks they started to explore there surroundings. Often we would see them totter up to their roof’s edge, take a look down, then teeter back, seemingly daunted by the height, and all the while crying out for food.
We’ve lived here for more than eight years and this is the first time we’ve seen baby gulls. It could be that this happens every summer, but we’ve just missed it in all the noise. Or it could be, that when things slowed down, like the pioneers of old, the gulls decided to claim the quieter streets of dawn for their own.
The reason I’m telling you this is because in the last few days the younger seagulls have started to fly. They are now making short trips from roof to roof, and they’re growing more confident with each day that passes. As the silence recedes like a wave and the world begins to spin once more on it’s rusty axis; as we re-emerge into the light and a life now changed, this image of each of these small, dark birds taking their first step off the safety of their roof into nothing but air, into a flight borne of faith, seems somehow fitting. And more than that.
It seems hopeful.
Everything moves in cycles. From the tides to the seasons to our planet’s journey around the sun, everything repeats. On a long enough timeline, patterns become obvious.
I don’t know the future. But I know a little history. Did you know that the ‘roaring 20’s’ – that decade of partying, and art, and dancing, and laughter – came about in large part as a reaction to the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic and the world war that preceded it?
I know we’re not out of the dark times yet. The Spanish flu lasted for around 2 years, and many people are still wrestling in the thick of it. But darkness cannot last forever. Dawn comes. Things change; that’s what things do. The pandemic will end, the world will carry on turning and, sometime very soon will be the dancing, and the music, and the art, and the laughter.
If you’re having a hard time right now I feel you. But don’t despair.
Take heart, and remember the seagulls:
First comes the silence of mourning
Then come the cries of the young
Then one single step into nothing
And the joyeous screaming of flight.
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