To say the past few months have given us all much to think about would be an understatement. Now that we’re beginning to emerge and use our judgement on who we socialise with and what level of social distancing to maintain, I felt the need to vocalise some thoughts I’ve been rattling around inside my head about what I’ve seen, what I’ve heard and felt and I’d invite you to also reflect. Because now. Now is the time for critical thinking. And not only thinking. The old maxim actions speak louder than words has never rung louder.
Allow me to put this in context from a personal perspective. In February I was just about recovering from major surgery, feeling delighted with myself as yet again I dodged a second serious silver bullet in 20 years. Then BANG. Along came Covid-19. I wouldn’t say what I saw it was mass hysteria more a state of disbelief. No-one could really take in what impact this would have on us here in Ireland and across the world. Italy opened our eyes, made us see the enormity of what lay ahead. But let’s be honest here. It somehow became a distant reality. Italy bought us time, but we did not HEAR her message. We opened our hearts but closed our ears even as we saw coverage on social media of massive death tolls. We cried as many Italians turned to music, their balconies bringing their communities together and us into theirs but still we did not feel the insidious nature of the unseen enemy, this deadly virus. Then almost overnight, Ireland stopped.
So just what did I see and what did I hear?
Probably the same as you. What I saw were people scurrying around, following the guidelines as our neighbourhoods emptied of life. People almost too scared to look people in the eye. As if smiling even could put us and them at risk. People were panic buying. The fear was palpable. Get home, lock the door. Stay safe. Stay alive. BE GRATEFUL.
Is a human life only worth saving during a pandemic? Let me just repeat that…. is a human life only worth saving during a pandemic?
It was and still is emotional rollercoaster for many and the longer term impact as yet unknown. Parents suddenly finding themselves ‘Parenting from Home’ rather than ‘Working from Home’ that is if they still had paid work. Home schooling, getting families fed three times a day (well the fortunate ones), a different kind of treadmill. Anxiety over cancelled hospital appointments. Frustration, Anger and Grief ran through me and I’m sure many others as the reality sank in. Wasn’t I thankful I had a roof over my head? Of course I was. This crisis was highlighting how vulnerable and at risk homeless people were and how their desperate situation was jeopardising the lives of countless others who like those in Direct Provision had no way of ‘keeping safe’ – what was becoming absolutely clear to me was that our hitherto two-tier health system had become a single tier where if you were sick with Covid-19, you would be treated. The question remains what happens afterwards? Is a human life only worth saving during a pandemic? Let me just repeat that…. is a human life only worth saving during a pandemic? How we grieve for our dead – or cannot during a pandemic continue to fill our radio waves just about every day. How people survive without jobs, without money for essentials raises questions for the longer term – no better time for the Universal Basic Wage to be reconsidered.
As acceptance settled in with a feeling of ‘it is what it is’ becoming almost ‘de rigeur’ as was the need for keeping a cheery countenance of sorts, which in itself creates its own form of anxiety in the body too, no matter how thankful we are. No wonder now we’re weary and exhausted as we gather the strength to put energy into this next phase of living differently. It’s been like an emotional see-saw, the inner turmoil of moving from overwhelm to gratitude and the practicalities of adjustment, particularly for those like me who still work.
The ‘have nots’ have almost always shared what they have because they’ve known what it is to go without.
As I moved on from what I felt was the negative emotional impact, I could seeing just how resilient people are, how thoughtful and kind to one another, how creative people are in how they are using their time, and this time with their families that has been developed into something incredibly rich in many cases, like butterflies in their chrysalis, transforming into something incredibly beautiful and precious, relationships deepening that would not have happened without this pandemic. Some businesses are ‘pivoting’ and flourishing. Just as small businesses are reimagining and restructuring to stay afloat, sadly though many have and others will close. The impact on the Irish economy and global economy is beyond the grasp of most of us and finally we’re realising how interconnected we all are. That we need each other and that together no-one need be left behind. But this can only happen when we as enlightened citizens must make the changes in our lifetime that only future generations will benefit from. Politics is already getting in the way and unless we are strong in our demands on what we want, in what we inherently know benefits the whole of society then our country, known for its kindness will simply return to the way it was, a land of ‘haves and have nots’. The ‘have nots’ have almost always shared what they have because they’ve known what it is to go without. They know that ‘enough is more than enough’ and the value of being part of a community.
So what’s my point amidst this deconstructed rant…. There IS a gap. And it is a critical space in time and that time is now. Between dealing with this crisis and full on re-engagement. For each of us this will be based on what we each saw, what we each have heard and have felt. It is perhaps the only time we have to really think about what we want for our world and the benefit of the sacrifices we are being asked to make, we are unlikely to feel the benefit of during our lifetime. We’re not all movers and shakers and the prospect of knowing where to start dealing with the bigger issues of homelessness, universal access to healthcare, education and all the things as humanists we fervently believe everybody has a basic human right to expect. But we can make a difference at a local level. Within our communities, where and how we use our skills. As part of how we earn a living, as volunteers. This much we can all do.
As we begin to socialise and carefully re-engage with family and friends, the fear will of course remain beneath the surface. Like smallpox, this virus and others like it will be something we have to learn to live with and we’ll be making judgement calls every day. Life will be different and for generations to come, hopefully the good calls we make in our everyday lives will also help create stronger, more compassionate communities.
Yes it takes a village to raise a child’ – now I believe it takes a country’s citizens to create lasting change
Maybe the future will see people moving back into the cities, with office blocks returning to residential use, less reliance on public transport and use of cars as people work closer to home, from or partly from home, lower incidences of mental health problems as people become more connected in their local communities. Greater connection between the generations as we revisit our values and recognise the human value of intergenerational connection and learning. Gandi’s words ‘It takes a Gandi said, be the change you want to see in the world’ are ever more urgent. My hope is that each of us based on what we have seen during this pandemic, what we have learnt will make the time to take the time to reflect and each in our way, take the good out of what’s been so devastating as the building blocks for what can be ONCE AGAIN a most wonderful world. Yes it takes a village to raise a child’ – now I believe it takes a country’s citizens to create lasting change.
Janie Lazar, Humanist, Specialist Speaker Coach, TEDx Dun Laoghaire Curator, Celebrant and Optimist