In primary school there are “bubbles,” in secondary school there are “pods.” The students must spend every day with the same group: they must arrive with their group, they must study with their group, they must take breaks with their group, they must leave with their group.
The students in the pod for which I am responsible this week are entering the tenth week of such strange school days. They have grown bored and tired with the arrangements. It is hard to stir up enthusiasm. Perhaps I could encourage them to read about what bad days are really like. Perhaps there are books that could make them realize their situation was not so bad after all.
Sitting on a grass bank at lunchtime, I opened my plastic lunchbox which contained my usual lunch. Cheese and pickle sandwiches, three tomatoes and an apple. Biting into the first tomato there was a delightful sense of flavour.
It recalled school days when I read a book which taught a lasting lesson about finding single moments that might make a day seem worthwhile.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch was a book summed up in its title. The book described one day in the life of a prisoner in the deprivation, monotony and violence of the sort of camp where the Communists put those who disagreed with them; it reflected Solzhenitsyn’s personal experiences in the Soviet Union from which he became an exile.
Nothing really happens in the story, but, forty-five years later, I still remember being drawn into the reality of this daily existence and actually feeling a sense of delight when Ivan Denisovitch manages to secure an extra slice of black bread, which he hides in the mattress of his bed in order to eat it at a time when he would be able to savour it. An extra slice of dry black bread seemed like a very special feast in the circumstances of a labour camp.
Ivan Denisovitch has been an encouragement on many occasions since those teenage years, not on the days that were particularly bad, but on days which were dull, which were repetitive, which lacked any light moments. The story of Ivan Denisovitch, who found such satisfaction slice of black bread, can make an ordinary day in lockdown seem like a time filled with luxury and delight. He taught the value of delighting in small things, like tasty tomatoes.