In these pandemic times of rising fear and uncertainty, I thought I’d try to infuse at least one small drop of positivity into the worldwide panic that is spreading as fast as the coronavirus itself.
Right now, at this unique time of history in the making, virtually all corners of the globe are united in a rare coalition of human emotion: fear, hope, determination, bravery, uncertainty … a general coming-together of our brethren. And for what purpose? Not to fight each other, for a change, but to fight this alien mutation that is enticing all of us to star in a sci-fi Universal production, with its cunning script centred around taking over the planet and killing all its inhabitants.
But here’s the thing. A good thing. By its very own virulence, the coronavirus is forcing us all to step back from our everyday lives, close our eyes, and take a deep breath.
What is this life, if full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?
The opening words of William Henry Davies’ poem could hardly better apply to these current times, when the domino effect of shutting down all systems is gaining in momentum around the world. Coercing us to stand and stare. To think. To rest. Read. Breathe. Look out of the window. (At the beautiful Vistula river, in my case.) Gaze at the moon. The stars. Be thankful for being well. For being alive.
This is a time to be aware of your own mortality; your day to day existence. And oh how precious that taken-for-granted existence is, when threatened by a universal enemy that has aggregated the human race in a zealousness that has gone just as viral as its wicked counterpart. Regardless of language, skin colour, religion, geographic location, economic status, we’re all desperate to trample this invisible beast underfoot. We’re all desperate to be the winners. But we’re also scared. Terrified, more like. We need to be comforted and advised.
So the world has listened, and metamorphosed into an omnipresent Madonna figure, swaddling her panic-ridden children in shelter and concern, imposing decrees on us all, whether or not we want to listen to them.
“Stay home”, she says. “Don’t travel. Don’t socialise. Keep clean. Keep healthy. Look after yourself and others. Don’t be selfish. Don’t overdo the shopping. Don’t grab the last pack of loo roll from the mother-of-three who almost got there first. No one wants to be infected with this virus. No one wants to die, or cause others to die. Be good citizens of the world and do as I command!”
As country after country gradually winds down into quarantine strategies, closed borders, closed just-about-everything-else, national gridlock … we now, whether we like it or not, at last have the time to do exactly what William Henry Davies urged us to do, way back in 1911: stand and stare. And what a beautiful thing that is to do!
I live in the vibrant, buzzing city of Kraków in Southern Poland. Teaming with tourists, students and denizens young and old, all year round. Cafes bursting at the seams; guided tours invading the market square and museums and cobbled side streets; long snakes of chattering schoolchildren led by their Pied Piper teachers; laughter, chatter, shouting; chest-baring British studs harassing hapless waitresses … and now? Where’ve they all gone? There’s been a decimation of human beings these last few days – no, not through coronavirus, but through … well, just staying at home, I guess.
All is silence. All is emptiness (or near as damn it). All is peace. Quiet. Our Madonna-Earth murmuring to every citizen: Shhhhh! Everything will be all right. As long as you’re sensible, we’ll beat those insidious, nasty little alien coronaviruses together.
I also happen to live on a very busy road, albeit with a beautiful view of the Vistula river right opposite my living room window. On any average day of the year, cars are a sad blight on that otherwise magnificent view. And now? Hardly a single vehicle on the road. BLISS!
And today, as I made my way into the centre of Kraków … hardly a soul in the trams. Just one unconscious drunk, and me.
Not a single student in the schools, because all schools are closed.
Not a single client in any café, bar or restaurant, because all gastronomic places are closed.
Not a single visitor to any cinema, museum, theatre or concert venue, because all cultural and social venues are closed.
How often do we experience such utter peace and silence in our cluttered existences? How often do we encounter the feeling of being in an all-compassing, universal cloister? How often do we get to vacuum-clean all the debris and detritus and dust that has infiltrated our quotidian lives? I almost want to thank Grand Master Coronavirus (or Grand Mistress?) for the unexpected benefits granted to us by shoving us into our sequestered homes, towns and cities that grow quieter by the day.
But no, I can’t say that. It’s tantamount to blasphemy. If I worked in a hospital for infectious diseases, I’m sure I wouldn’t be saying that. But it’s what I actually feel right now. It’s my confession. To myself, to my fellow-blogger, to Madonna-Earth. After all:
What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?
We will either die from this global enemy, or we’ll eradicate it. And I think we all know which one it’ll ultimately be. So in the meantime, until we get our normal hassled lives back, let us all stop, stand and stare. (Not at each other, though I have to say the Poles are rather good at doing that.) Nothing could be simpler than that piece of poetic advice. Nothing could be more essential to our well-being in these pandemic times that have made prisoners of us all, but somehow, bizarrely, also granted us the short-lived gift of an almost biblical peace, perfect peace in the midst of our crazy, demented, unrelenting lives. We’re all stranded in a desert oasis right now; a tunnel with both ends bolted. And, I have to guiltily admit, I rather like it.
As long as there’s light at the end of our sojourn.