Looking through my window from the inside, outside looks normal. Outside looks how I’ve been hoping it would look for months – sunny, still, calm. But looks can be deceiving. While nature keeps busy with the changing of seasons, the nation occupies itself with worry and grief. These days, the weather inside me is often the very opposite of sunny, still and calm.
Lots of people are asking ‘why?’ I’ve heard it said that this is nature’s way of telling us something. It’s spreading this virus to make us stop, pause and take stock of what we’re doing to our planet, and to each other. To me, that feels biblical. Which seems appropriate for apocalyptic times.
Of course, this isn’t really an apocalypse, even though it feels like one. It’s an awful moment in our history and far too many people are dying. That being true, notwithstanding the current lack of a cure, we have probably never lived in a luckier moment for such a pandemic to occur.
The large majority of us who get through it should thank our stars that this happened in an age where the internet and the many technologies it enables will provide a life raft for many jobs, businesses and relationships, not to mention the education and entertainment options it offers families stuck indoors for weeks on end and, of course, its power to connect people around the globe who are toiling to understand the virus, improve treatments and find a vaccine.
This time has been compared to a war and, like many wars, the tragedies will force our nations to reckon with themselves and change things for the better. When this crisis ends, there will be questions to ask and opportunities to grasp – around home-based and flexible working; funding of the NHS and social care; the precariousness of employment and our social safety net; the nature of community and the role of business within it; and, yes, the change we can bring about quickly when we stop emitting so much carbon (hello, swans on Venetian canals).
Today, of course, none of us know when the crisis will end or what our lives will look like by then. As I write this, my 80 year-old father-in-law is in hospital following a bad fall at his home. We don’t know if he’ll be released to a world in which we are legally obliged not to visit him, for fear of contagion. My own parents are on lockdown and unvisitable in south Wales. Sometimes I fear I may never see them again. My wife’s business has shut its doors to the world and hopes to survive hand-to-mouth through online sales, long enough to keep from going under. Friends of ours who rely on freelance work suddenly have no income.
A few years ago, I wrote about how mindfulness and meditation had helped me through a dark and anxious spell. It’s something I still practice, and it gives me an anchor when the winds of worry rock me. We all need to learn to get more comfortable with uncertainty, and to live moment by moment. Right now, look at that beautiful tree. Right now, look at that beautiful person. Right now, hear that beautiful birdsong. Right now is what’s real.
He’s not an obvious person to quote in a crisis, but I keep thinking of something the film critic Mark Kermode often says on his film review podcast: ‘Everything will be alright in the end. And if it’s not alright? It’s not the end.’
by contributor John Worsey