MOUSEY MOMENT … THE BEST OF TIMES, AND THE WORST OF TIMES.
These days of the coronavirus lockdown have been, to paraphrase Charles Dickens, the best of times, and the worst of times.
‘A Tale of Two Cities’ is a historical novel by Charles Dickens. This passage suggests an age of radical opposites taking place across the English Channel, in France and the United Kingdom respectively. It tells a story of contrasts and comparisons between London and Paris during the French revolution.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way …”
This phrase points out a major conflict between family and love, hatred and oppression, good and evil, light and darkness, and wisdom and folly.
I’m sure the past few months have felt like that – we’ll all have experienced moments of dark & light, hope & despair, fear & assurance.
I don’t know if it’s that this Spring actually is more vibrant, ecstatic, dazzling and delicious than any I can recall, or if it’s just that I have had more time to experience it, more time and attention span to dedicate to it, but these sunshine-saturated days as tree leaf buds explode like fireworks in a wild symphony of greens, oranges and browns against the deep blue sky, have left me breathless. I find myself wanting to spend all my time outdoors trying to capture the light, the shade, the patterns, the swirls.
Hesse’s “Klingsor’s Last Summer” tells the story of a painter living the last summer of his life with ‘hectic intensity’, wanting to capture and paint everything and not miss a moment. In one passage, Hesse writes:
“This day will never come again and anyone who fails to eat and drink and taste and smell it will never have it offered to him again in all eternity. The sun will never shine as it does today … But you must play your part and sing a song, one of your best. ”
I wonder if we will look back on the days of the coronavirus lockdown as having been, in part, the most exquisite Spring, one we soaked up every taste and smell of, or else one that passed us by, either because we were too busy and overwhelmed, or because watching Netflix or playing on our Play Stations called to us louder than the world outside our windows.
William Gibson once wrote “the future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed”, and coronavirus is the same. In many homes, it’s probably felt like an extended, albeit rather surreal, holiday, while for others, like key NHS workers, life has been about juggling their work, looking after children and the restricted realities of daily life. For many, sadly, it’s been a time of illness, hospitalisation, death & coping with the loss of a loved one. Best of times, worst of times.
While this is potentially still a deeply dangerous time, it may also be the time we look back to as the time when the shift to a better world became inevitable. So much is uncertain.
Yes, this has been a time that has felt at times terrifying, disturbing, surreal and strange.
Yet it has also brought out the best in so many people. The fact that so many people were prepared to co-operate with the lockdown out of concern for each other is unprecedented outside wartime. As a billboard that a friend sent me a photo of states, “it isn’t the end of the world. It is the most remarkable act of global solidarity we may ever witness”. We have shown ourselves to be far better people than the cynics would have had us believe.
Life might not be ‘normal’ as we once knew it, but moving forward we share this opportunity to find meaning in this new and surreal experience. We now have new opportunities for growth.
The very act of successfully adapting to change and unpredictability is forcing almost all of us to adapt to a different daily routine, a routine which also offers the gift of time for reflection. We must use this experience to clarify what’s important in our lives and be ready to move on after COVID-19 … stronger, calmer, and clearer than before.
Start by pausing to really absorb the magnitude of this moment. It is almost unthinkable that life as we know it grinds to a halt like this. When else has this happened in your lifetime? It is a powerful reminder that there are forces greater than ourselves that don’t bend to our will. It is humbling and humanizing, and can even be a meaningful turning point in our lives if we give ourselves time to absorb the lessons of this experience.
So what are those lessons, and how can we make the most of them?
1) Impermanence – The first lesson of COVID-19 is a reminder that we are vulnerable to illness and death. Already thousands of people have lost their lives, with many more to come. Coming to grips with our impermanence is a powerful way to liberate ourselves from fear and live more fully. Pausing to acknowledge the fragility of our health encourages us to take stock of our lives and reflect on how we are spending our limited time on Earth & can we spend it better. We can take note of all the things that have gone well, personally & professionally. Maybe you really enjoyed riding your bike to work or having extra time with your children in the mornings. Maybe a phone call or email was a reasonable substitute for a meeting. Consider what innovations you can take with you after this disruption ends.
2) Interdependence – Our interdependence as humans becomes suddenly undeniable in the face of a phenomenon like COVID-19. Your health is no longer just yours to safeguard; your neighbour’s behaviour, your workplace’s policies, or the sanitation practices of your grocery store or local restaurant might now help determine your likelihood of contracting the virus. Similarly, whether you choose to fly or travel and become an unwitting vector of the disease affects those around you. We are all truly in this together! We must care for ourselves and make choices that show consideration for those in our communities.
To make the most of this lesson we must take care of ourselves: Obviously, wash your hands. Take the extra time afforded in your lockdown schedule to lower stress through self-care practices like meditation, gentle exercise, fresh air, warm baths, board games/puzzles, music, etc. Paint your house, organize a closet, make a scrapbook. Spend the extra time at home doing something calming and pleasant for yourself, and build habits you can take with you when “normal life” returns.
Take care of others: Continue to stay home if you can. Check in (via phone/email) on elderly neighbours or relatives to see if they need help. Pick up a bag of groceries or medications for someone at higher risk than you. Pause to think about the impact of your behaviour, not just during this period of disruption, but moving forward, by asking yourself: What impact do I make on the world? How can I be a source of positivity or support to others?
3) Gratitude – The prospect of serious illness reminds us to be thankful for our health and other blessings. Seeing others struggle with illness can inspire us to better care for our bodies and appreciate more – and judge less – our physical capacities. Pause to give thanks for the various aspects of life with which you are blessed (for example, the opportunity to spend more time at home with your family during the pandemic). We’ve been busy making our paper chains, writing down things we are grateful for throughout the day. Pausing to notice and write down what you are grateful for in the moment is a great way to practice mindfulness too! Speak words of gratitude to someone you appreciate (by phone/email/sending cards). Take the time to video chat with a loved one and offer them an emotional connection.
Life will be different moving forward. Some facets of that are yours to determine: What will you take with you from this experience? How can the lessons of COVID-19 mark a positive turning point for you? These are powerful questions I hope you take the time to answer in these coming weeks.
It was the worst of times but we can turn it into the best of times in the days ahead.