Roger Cohen writes: "The planet has gone quiet, so quiet you can almost hear it whirling around the sun, feel its smallness, picture for once the loneliness and fleetingness of being alive."
It's a spring for fatalism, for uncertainty, for fear for loved ones, and perhaps oneself. Eerily quiet, a planet seeking to heal itself, while we pull at the strings of our Covid captivity, just itching to go back out to populate and pollute it anew.
Could we remember our limits, could we inspire and focus our fresh innovation? Could we avoid just seeking a return to our insensate, "selfie" frenzied self-absorption and celebrity infatuation, but seek to stay aware, to be conscious, to be care-ful (i.e. full of care) for each other and every gift we have been given to be stewards of?
A pathogen, a virus, which can graduate to a form of pneumonia, that can steal our breath -- the novelty and uncertainty of which has brought our commerce and civilization to a screeching halt. The Greeks warned us that with hubris (pride) comes nemesis; that is if we insist that is the only way the archangel of humility can gain entrance to our hearts and souls.
I think of the silent streets of my remarkable long-time home of New York, the deserted cloisters of my beloved Oxford, the echoing silence near the beautiful mist covered hills of Sri Lanka's tea country, each in different ways, for so long, such glorious hives of activity and interactivity.
And yet, thrown back on ourselves, we have space to talk, to listen even, to read (might we actually?), to flex our limbs or unfurl our musculature as much as available space allows, to cook, to contemplate. We hopefully allow ourselves to be both stirred and stilled.
A Different Plague?
Amazon is finding it hard to keep adequate stocks of Camus's "The Plague". "...the plague bacillus never dies or vanishes entirely, that it can remain dormant for dozens of years in furniture or clothing, that it waits patiently in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, handkerchiefs and old papers, and perhaps the day will come when, for the instruction or misfortune of mankind, the plague will rouse its rats and send them to die in some well-contented city."
Camus wrote this in 1947, just after World War II, and the "plague" he had in mind was war, the political plague of Fascism. He was warning us against being waylaid by the mesmerizing fantasy of authoritarian safety blankets.
Across the planet we have seen real leadership and we have seen sheer unscientific, nationalistic, incoherence and incompetence. To listen to the PM of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong, Justin Trudeau in Canada, Angela Merkel in Germany, is to be heartened. Not that anyone can do it all "right" when what is "right" is still awaiting a tipping point of data and evidence to reveal itself. But it is about passionate clarity and compassionate authenticity.
The doctor at the center of the novel "The Plague" is asked to define decency. He says for him it consists of "doing my job." Many jobs currently cannot be done, and feelings of futility can overwhelm anyone. But being currently ineffective, does not mean our skills and abilities and commitment are pointless. We hopefully continue to hone them. We hopefully realize we may have to adapt them.
So Camus tells us, "The only way to fight the plague is with decency." And it's not really a fight. We live into the best of ourselves, because that's what the seeming "worst of times" asks of us. We redeem ourselves that way and say "thank you" for every moment of grace. Humanity smiles, it is the essence of being human to do so. The virus cannot fathom the response. It will get absorbed in the cycle of life, and the Muezzin will be heard again, the Church bells will ring, the temples will again invite our communal as well as private devotion.
So let's remember this damned, harrowing, glorious, gorgeous, wisdom-endowing spring. We owe it our attention. And we must listen from our heart, our mind and our soul. We must do so, so we can fully move on -- yes move on from and move past its lessons, but still with those lessons applied and not wasted.