On Wednesday this week, during a round of interview phone calls, I asked my usual: “Hi, how are you?” at the beginning of each conversation.
Every single person responded: “Tired.”
They mentioned Christmas, with a far-off glint in their eyes like an explorer who has spotted an oasis that they know, deep down in their weary souls, is probably only a mirage.
Then they mentioned again that they were tired. I tweeted about it, and was hit by a wall of responses. Across the sector, it seems, everyone is tired.
This year has been a long, long slog. The task feels insurmountable. There is so little money and there is so much need.
People are going without food. People living in overcrowded and substandard housing have had nowhere to learn, or work, or get away from abusive domestic situations.
Those with disabilities and chronic illnesses have been desperate for information and support to manage their conditions in new, difficult and potentially deadly circumstances.
As a journalist, it’s easy to feel cynical. I woke up on Monday to find someone had drawn what can only be described as a self-portrait on the Withington mural of Manchester United player Marcus Rashford, which we had been planning to photograph for a story.
Between anti-maskers and the cock-and-balls vandalism of artwork celebrating a man campaigning to feed children (never mind the fact that the kids are going hungry in the first place), my faith that people are essentially good, co-operative beings who will lift each other up in a crisis has taken a bit of a battering this year.
And sometimes, it feels like my job is to stand on the sidelines carping.
At other times, it really feels like it is being helpful – when we expose something wrong or provide a crucial bit of information that everyone has been waiting for.
Then there are the times when reporting on this sector feels like nothing less than bearing witness to the miraculous.
In the midst of all this chaos, there are people doing their best, doing what they can, doing the downright superhuman task of making lives just a little bit better.
I lost count of the number of times I have cried at my desk this year.
Because of people in the charity sector, there are meals in telephone boxes, mobile phones in the hands of domestic violence survivors, food in children’s bellies, voices providing answers at the end of helplines, and funding for vital services.
No wonder everyone is tired. There is so much still to do, and at times it can feel like we’re not making any progress – just trudging painfully towards a horizon that isn’t getting any closer. And 2021 might be a new year, but we all know it won’t be a walk in the park.
When there is so much to do, it can be difficult to rest, because we tend to associate rest with self-indulgence, with laziness, with selfishness.
But any athlete will tell you that rest days are a vital part of any regime. Rest days help you recuperate and heal, but they also help you strengthen your body, sharpen your focus, and give you the mental reinvigoration you need to go on.
Beyond that, you deserve it.
Christmas is going to look weird and different for everyone this year – and for many in the sector, those in soup kitchens and shelters and cancer wards, it may look like any other day.
But at some point, find the time to rest, to take a breath, and to see how far we have come.
Because however hard it’s been, however endless it seems, if you’ve been working in this sector this year, there is a strong chance that someone’s life is immeasurably better because of you.
And we see that. We see you, and your long hours and your quick-turnaround improvisations and your against-the-odds victories.
You have worked miracles this year, and it has been an immense privilege to watch.
Have a very restful, and joyful Christmas. We’ll see you next year.
Rebecca Cooney is features and analysis writer for Third Sector