My blogpost for Authors Electric, January 2021, re-blogged here, and still relevant…
‘Happy New Year’ – how many of us stayed up, let off fireworks, made resolutions, or toasted 2021? Did anyone still think we’d be rid of the Pestilence, which seemed to’ve been celebrating its own capacity for moving into what we call a ‘New Year’? Enthusiastic about its own persistence, and whether human beings would stick to their resolutions?
New Year’s Eve, someone down the road was defying any gloom: fireworks which began at 11.00pm banged and boomed, illuminating the sky until 12.00pm. Will this be the year we escape into ‘normal’ life, the Year of the Vaccine? I rather think that display was for something else… something a bit divisive… the 21st century looks to continue divisive and conflicted, set with clashing cultures, discontent, instability, and powerful urban myths. In January 2021, looking back on childhood, adolescence, early adult life, there was none of this. Refugees (now officially labelled ‘migrants’) were people we supported by holding ‘Jumble Sales’. This conveniently denies that nobody would undertake such perilous journeys if peaceful life the home country was possible. Wars took place far away. Conflict in far away Vietnam came through the TV. And protest songs – Dylan, Baez, albums passed around at school – spoke about this to us UK kids and teens. But our dads, brothers, friends, didn’t face a call-up, and we had the comfort of our own homes to cushion us.
It all depended on who you were and where you’re from. My Palestinian friend’s family had fled, via Lebanon, and were now scattered around, some in the USA, others in England. In Ireland, growing up in Belfast was vastly different from in the outer London suburbs. Though I remember being scared of terrorist attacks – was it safe, through the 1970s and into the 1990s, to take the District Line into London to look at an art exhibition? Meet a friend? Go shopping? See a play? Scrolling through the list of bombings, I recall the relief the Good Friday Agreement brought everyone. And there’s an example: peace took a long time coming…And was short lived: 2005, a London bus and a train bombed… different cause, same events.
So, what am I saying? Something about the irony of an entire world war – not against injustice, or empire-building, waged indiscriminately against the human population a whole, by an entity we can’t see. We can’t splat it like a mosquito, we can’t take up the latest nuclear or conventional weapons and bomb it to bits. We can’t (even!) make peace with it. We’re inside one of our own disaster moves, and we don’t like it. And we, at least we European and American Westerners, are outraged, terrified, taken aback. Some try to deny it. We cannot cope. We didn’t see this coming?
Without ‘banging on’ about climate change, actually we were warned . The world is an organism, each plant, or creature, or indeed each bacteria, virus, mould, even features of landscape or weather, shares in the make up of the world. Though many are pests, many others, seen or unseen, contribute to the well being of others, all up and down the food chain. Steadily removing some, (trees? rain forests? insects?), increasing others (carbon, concrete, petroleum fumes) radically changes things, bit by bit. Maybe science is boring? Maybe scientists who study the natural world are of less worth than financiers, politicians, and movie directors? Maybe.
The scientific community had been saying, the next big threat to planet Earth isn’t necessarily world war three. It could be, it is going to be, pandemics. When a tiny report, lurking quietly to one side of the BBC News webpage, with an illustration (photo from an electron microscope?) was headed ‘New virus identified in China’, some governments already had been told. They knew. They were warned. They didn’t prepare.
The world is a scary place, yet depending on who were are, how un-scary it appeared post World War two. Looking at the childhood of my grandchildren, and my friends’ grandchildren, I’ve wondered about how they feel – some teenagers, some already University – but others, in primary or secondary school, nursery, or even still inside, waiting to be born. Anxiety, disruption, an unexpected situation, requires them to grow up fast, cope with the changes, cope with being unable to imagine their own future. They if any will be the generation who could justifiably ‘blame’ their parents. For a range of problems, not just raging wildfires and plastic in the seas.
What are we doing? At the first lockdown, some us wondered whether, or believed that, this crisis would ‘bring back community’. It’s certainly pointed up individualism, dependence on appliances (they break…), on others providing for us (meals out, cleaners, even teachers, hairdressers, and of course dentists, doctors, vets), socialising (parties, Events, festivals, theatres, concerts, gathering for worship), on freedom movement (trips out to the countryside, driving from home to see friends/family/holidays). The list is endless. Seems without these things, we get sad and lonely. All, or maybe most, of these are good things. No criticism. But prejudice, intolerance, rejection, and and hatred are all there, between countries and individuals. Even arguments about Who should be prioritised for the vaccine?
What we need most might be to simply learn or remember about thoughtfulness, compassion, give and take? Maybe we could forget tribalism, and cultivate accepting diversity, seeing ‘the other’ as a valid being, be they useful to us or not? Possibly when it’s over, the next step is acceptance, inclusiveness, and peace? Wouldn’t that be healing?