COVID-19 is a tragedy unleashed. The best we can achieve from this episode in our lives is to survive it, and learn any small (or great) lessons that might lead us to survive better together in future. Lessons for change. Collective change, as well as personal, transformations.
In common with traditional myths of transformation, and associated death-underworld-rebirth cycles, I can see through the mist of disorientation, that there appears to be three stages too our being in the times of Coronavirus.
The first was the kind of space where all of the monsters come hurling forward, and all at once. Faced with sudden losses prompted by Social Distancing and then Lockdown, speculation and fear sent most of us humans into some kind of emotional flailing. Losing sight of what is familiar, stable and reassuring in the outer world, seriously disorientates inner reality. And who can be prepared for that?
Losing loved ones, colleagues and neighbours, or even ‘people we knew’ pushes us into a dominating cycle of grief: denial (shock), anger, bargaining, depressions and (eventually, one day) acceptance; and this cycle again and again, and sometimes at different magnitudes all at once.
That’s a lot of emotion, unleashed, and all of us collectively at effect from each other. For some, there have been additional struggles: to regain health; and/or to find the shifting ground beneath ones feet, due to lack of cash flow; or simply to manage without essential support, or due to the seeming encroachment of our own four walls and co-habitants: this is immense.
After the shocking realisations at government unpreparedness and slack response, and at increasing numbers of deaths, I couldn’t get my head around the numbers of dead (a mathematical glitch, or some sort of abstract denial?)
At one point, I measured the UK’s daily death rates by other national disasters, simply to understand them: this many Grenfells, each day, every day… this many Hillsboroughs, this week… that’s however-may deaths as 7/7, per day… and so on.
I have stopped doing that now. It wasn’t helping, in the end. But by this measure of off-the-scale, I got the picture. Then came such immense fury, and sorrow. My husband, usually the more even-tempered of the two of us, kept the usual radio blabbering, turned off; silencing the politicians he was too furious to listen to, and death rates too shocking to bear.
The second stage of this trifold shitshow, is tempered with acceptance.
Not only by me, and him, but it seems for others, too. New routines hatch in captivity: an emergent national appetite for banana bread, for home haircuts, and putting the bins out whilst wearing ballgowns or fancy dress, have become emergent, British activities. Children who hated school, are thriving at home; long-neglected household chores are being completed; gardens are reclaimed. Some of us have time, and reservoirs of gratitude.
Fury, fear and frustration might be just as immense when the next waves come, but small degrees of acceptance shape a new, temporary norm. Handwashing, shopping considerations, new domestic habits; or forgotten ones. By these small things we recover lost parts of ourselves, adapt, reconstitute in the mush of uncertainty, survive; and learn how to survive better.
I became ill: but it was probably tonsillitis, caught from my granddaughter (her doctor diagnosed it) just before lockdown. Wrapped in a blanket for several days, sipping every known herbal remedy to easy a dry cough, it was surely nothing serious. Or was it? How to tell? In the slump of fatigue and recovery, came inertia, the lost hairbrush, and dreadlocks. I always wondered how they would look. After a few weeks and in better health, there came a Zoom intervention by my adult children: you are too old for dreadlocks, Mum. Now go and brush your hair!
For some of us, this phase is like pupation: melting down inside new found, less hurried, chrysalis states, becoming some other aspect of our own selves. Social media is full of evidence of it.
This year has brought a glorious, sunny spring. More of us are noticing the birdsong, renaming the weeds as wildflowers, walking the paths and green spaces around our cities. It isn’t normal, it isn’t stable, it isn’t secure; but it is what we have got, and with resounding gratitude. A glance to those who have. Lost, instead of gained: will this make us a more compassionate society?
Whatever we have, it is temporary. This too, must pass. Controversial policies are already emerging for a ‘transition period’, while others, more concerned for people than for narrow definitions of ‘the economy’, warn of a second peak of tragic, heartaching, deaths.
The third stage has not yet taken place. Will we emerge anew, or broken?
I believe that when this time has passed, it will be both of these things, and sometimes both together. But I predict that in time, we human beings will rise. Who knows when? Or how? I don’t. But plans and new worlds are beginning to quietly, gently hatch. People are already asking:
How much of this birdsong and fondness for nature, can we keep on having, after this?
How can we ensure that the skies remain as clear?
How can we ensure people don’t lose their homes?
How can we better take care of our health service?
What about access to land, to walk on it and to grow things upon it?
How can we make better places to live, for those in inadequate housing?
How can we ensure more pay parity, for all workers?
What about climate change, biodiversity loss, and the pesticides my own council slosh into the parks?
How can we best honour the dead, and protect the living?
Who can we be, in future?
Who can we be in future?
Don’t ask me. I’ve only just got rid of the cough. But in the churning reflexivity that these times prompt, I can feel new beginnings taking shape inside uncertainty.