Nothing manmade remains long

Nothing has felt stranger than these times. But social isolation also brings things into sharper focus. It reminds us of all we have now, the luxury of life and the beauty of love.

And you may ask yourself… Well, how did I get here?*

Nothing has felt stranger than these times.

The world around me looks as it always did. Same trees, same buildings. But there are no people to be seen. Even for an early Sunday morning, the streets are deserted, silent. Nature continues as it ever did, its beauty somehow intensified by the bizarre circumstances in which we all find ourselves.

Pale early Spring sunshine illuminates the world. Fleeting warmth from the sun’s rays is snatched away by the harsh northerly winds.

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The slowly dying beauty of a daffodil as brown seeps into petals illuminated from behind by radiant sunshine. The flower’s time is finite. It draws life from the sun, the air and the earth for now. Then it will be gone.

A seagull soars over the centuries-old house, catches a thermal and appears to hang in the air. The bird has no possessions, no network of social institutions providing a safety net. It draws life from the sun, the air and the food it finds on the earth today and tomorrow. The seagull breaks out of this static moment and dives down in search of food.

The natural world goes about its business in the absence of humans. Nature appears to be getting along very well without us.**

This was my early morning walk last Sunday (29 March 2020). In line with official guidance, my one excursion from the house, a brief escape to partake of exercise. Even for a Sunday, the streets were unnervingly deserted, silent.

Some words were playing through my mind, from an article by Francesca Melandri, entitled A letter to the UK from Italy: this is what we know about your future:

“You will ask yourselves if this is how societies collapse. Does it really happen so fast?”

Indeed. You may ask yourself…

How privileged we are

It might feel like it at times, but I don’t think society is collapsing. Lockdowns and social distancing are disruptive, certainly. But this isn’t the end of all things.

“All those who are practising social distancing and imposed a lockdown on themselves must appreciate how privileged we are.”

This is from a Twitter thread by Dr Jagadish J Hiremath. He argues that lockdowns and social distancing can be considered luxurious when compared with what others in this world are going through:***

“Social distancing is a privilege. It means you live in a house large enough to practise it. Hand washing is a privilege too. It means you have access to running water. Hand sanitisers are a privilege. It means you have money to buy them.”

More like love

These times can teach us things we should already know. Social distancing forces into focus all that we value, all that we love.

In a poem shared via Instagram, Chelsie Diane argues that social distancing is a profound and immense expression of love:****

and then the whole world
walked inside and shut their doors
and said we will stop it all. everything.
to protect our weaker ones. our sicker ones. our older ones.
and nothing. nothing in the history of humankind
ever felt more like love than this.

Never felt so brave

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Love for all of humankind. For the weaker, the sicker, the older. For everyone who is special to us. We draw life from love, and from those who love us. Love is our highest purpose here.

In my ears on that Sunday morning walk was El-P’s Cancer4Cure album. It concludes with what is to me an incredibly moving song, $4 Vic/Nothing But You + Me (FTL).

My heart always soars to hear the closing minutes of this song. At a certain point, the music is taken over by an odd and all-encompassing beauty. El-P raps about the impermanence of our world and the eternal beauty of love:

Nothing manmade remains made long
That’s a debt we can’t back out of
Nothing that they can take from you
Nothing that they can do to me
Nothing I wouldn’t do for you
Nothing left here but you and me

It never fails to take my breath away. I love these words from this song:*****

But I’ve never felt so brave
As when I’m looking at your face
They can decimate my body
But my heart will not disgrace

Nothing has felt stranger than these times. Nothing manmade remains long. Our world will always change. Love will always remain.

FOOTNOTES

* These words are of course from Once in a Lifetime by Talking Heads, from their masterpiece album Remain in Light.

This song made a beautiful comeback a few weeks before the coronavirus pandemic, with David Byrne’s wonderful solo performance of it for Saturday Night Live. Sadly, the video of this performance seems to have disappeared from YouTube. But here is Mr Byrne reflecting on his appearances on SNL over the years.

** Although nature is not necessarily recovering during this pause in some of mankind’s polluting activities, according to a National Geographic article entitled Fake animal news abounds on social media as coronavirus upends life.

*** Here is the full thread of tweets from Dr Jagadish J Hiremath. Please do consider following him on Twitter:

Social distancing is a privilege. It means you live in a house large enough to practise it.

Hand washing is a privilege too. It means you have access to running water.

Hand sanitisers are a privilege. It means you have money to buy them.

Lockdowns are a privilege. It means you can afford to be at home.

Most of the ways to ward off Corona are accessible only to the affluent.

In essence, a disease that was spread by the rich as they flew around the globe will now kill millions of the poor.

All those who are practising social distancing & imposed a lockdown on themselves must appreciate how privileged we are.

More importantly those who can do it yet still move around infecting others especially the poor are criminals.

Poor cannot afford it please be considerate

For more on the situation in India, here is a CNN report: Social distancing is a privilege of the middle class. For India’s slum dwellers, it will be impossible.

**** Chelsie Diane’s poem has been shared widely over the past week or so, gaining particular traction via a photograph of an unattributed handwritten copy of the poem that was taped to a lamppost in Mt. Lebanon, PA.

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