At my last family gathering before social distancing was escalated, my nephew gave me an insight into the mind-blowing world (for a certain demographic!) of virtual reality. I screamed, while a dinosaur galloped towards me at speed, and experienced vertigo as I teetered at the edge of scaffolding, high above 5th Avenue NY. Such discomfort still seemed preferable to the real world of Covid19 that I was about to enter.
But In no time at all, I was writing and posting; expressing virtual outrage about the ineptitude of Boris Johnson. The staggeringly dangerous narcissism of Donald Trump. The breath-taking selfishness of toilet roll hoarders. The agonising worry over homeless people, and the many who would lose their income.
Then came the avalanche of life enhancing activities, entertainments, social gatherings, courtesy of 21st century technology. Some geared towards continuity of routine, and some providing a financial lifeline for the musicians, yoga teachers, choir leaders, writing, dance or language tutors, whose livelihood disappeared overnight.
As the death toll rises, and the economy collapses, many communities huddle around one another like the Emperor Penguins who take their turn at the epicentre of the warmth and energy of others, and at the outer edges of the huddle. The barrier between life and death. Reality kicks in. It’s here It’s in my neighbourhood. It lives and thrives in our midst. I will help you today, if you will help me tomorrow.
Still the voices permeate through the emptying streets. Universal basic Income! Protection for Tenants and unwaged homeowners! Equipment for our frontline NHS workers! Recognition of all of our front line workers, in retail, transport, community care! And so on. So we sign petitions and somehow fill cyberspace with demands. Enough! Time up for the greedy and the selfish who have brought us, and our planet to our knees.
This is a story that many will recognise. A shared account of the situation to date, from a relatively privileged position of having a home to retreat to. Maybe a partner or other loved ones to share it with, and a regular income of sorts. It’s still not quite my story. Mine still has to emerge from the noise of the conflicting energies as they swirl and settle around me. Where will I be in that unforeseeable future when and if I emerge from the dark tunnel that lies ahead? Will I, can I make a difference?
This is an unprecedented situation for all of us, but not an altogether unfamiliar landscape for me in some respects. I’ve been isolated through illness before, with no means of seeing light at the end of the tunnel. There were lesson learned then. I learned that my vibrant social life didn’t actually make it through my front door. I learned that good friends, while not exactly hard to find, often reside in cyberspace, as I do for them. Or possibly New Zealand, Canada. They may work long hours, have hugely demanding family commitments. It’s not all about me, even in times of isolation, solitude or reflection. It never was and it never will be. I reckon that really is my story then. In many ways very similar to yours. In so many ways, this is about all of us.
I’m not one of the amazing Key workers. My job is to avoid the virus, and prevent others from getting it. That’s about the most sociable and responsible thing that any of us can do now. Much as I’m appreciating the online version of my usual activities, and have come to see myself as others see me on split screens, I have no appetite for total immersion in activities. I have re-discovered the pleasure of reading a long novel. Social media can drive a coach and horses though your concentration span. I have completely gutted one room in the house so far, and contemplated gardening. Contemplation is good though. Most of all, at this time I feel that I want to be quiet.
In an online discussion with a friend, we did a bit of contemplation. About how we’ve been collectively sent to our rooms to think again. As if the planet has somehow placed us on the naughty step. That may sound like magical thinking to many of us, caught up in the day to day news reports and the actual hardship of survival. I’d say that it’s no more unrealistic than anything that I’ve seen and heard so far from the outside world. The least reassuring and most fantastical noises of all comes from our leaders.
Johnson struggles to look and sound as if he can actually be bothered with it all, now that he’s Got Brexit Done. Yet the media still try to place us in a war time situation with a Churchillian leader. Trump thinks that it would be a “Beautiful Thing” to lift the restrictions by Easter, and all will be well by then. As Johnson reported on the 400,000 people who had volunteered to, effectively place themselves in harm’s way to volunteer for the NHS, I wondered whether he could emerge from this crisis as a better person. Within seconds, I concluded that he is stuck within his own groove, with the script given to him by birth.
Maybe we all are. This is what I want to know. If we are to make a seismic shift towards a newer and better world, we’ll all have to make the changes, get out of our groove somehow. If we’re quiet enough we’ll experience our daily range of conflicting emotions; fear, guilt, gratitude, anger, joy (even). I just want to let them come and go, and see what happens. How I may change. For now I have to accept that, as someone in a “Vulnerable” group, I’m limited to offering emotional support. I’ve never really felt vulnerable before, and don’t now. I feel excited to think and believe that we can do it.
The physical earth looks different at the moment, so I’m told; clear blue canals in Venice. Clearer skies over China. Quiet roads in Skye! A bit like the Utopian virtual reality landscapes that I also sampled briefly. The plight of huge numbers of the population does not match this improving picture. We have work to do. Otherwise it’s all just magical thinking.