...This Likewise May...? by Mari Howard

‘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 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 as 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?


Peter Leyland said…
I read this in one long breath Mari, wondering when I should release it, and with the wonderful pictures the whole thing is like a Kerouac roll. It's a good start to my day. Now on with my project and thanks for the stimulating blog.
Eden Baylee said…
Hi Mari,

So much truth in your blog, thank you.

At times, the divisiveness amongst people during this pandemic has made me question whether we deserve to survive. We have a long history of destroying one another. Will this time be different? I sure hope so.
Umberto Tosi said…
When will they ever learn? You raise the fundamental questions from the old Pete Seeger song, "Where Have All the Flower Gone?" remembered from my teen years and still relevant, unfortunately. Not forgotten, fortunately. The worst pandemic in 100 years was criminally mishandled by America's worst president, exacerbating tolls in the states as we all know. We didn't need a double plague of career-criminal Fascists and COVID-19, When will we ever learn? At least the laws of physics haven't changed. Trumpismo has summoned a huge backlash, fortunately, Try as he did, LiarInChief couldn't hold back the tsunami that has thrown him back all the way to the Mar-a-Lago swamp. But the movement won't last unless we make it last. Uncle Joe, our thank-god new POTUS did make science a cabinet post the other day and appointed a heavyweight geneticist to run it. Then he brought Dr. Fouci back out of the cold and set him free in the garden of media delights. So, that's a start. All together now! Everyone persist, and persist, and persist and maybe we'll come out the other end smiling and still breathing... starting now....:)
Thank you guys for the super comments - I am truly happy this chimed with you... also I love it that the pictures were appreciated...one never knows whether anyone will 'get' quirky things like that. None were, of course, painted to fit - yet the one of a'Mindful Walk' done on a weekend course perfectly says 'social distancing...
Thank you, it's so tempting to look around and allow fear to creep in. However, I trust that summer and winter, spring time and harvest will continue, praying for strength to praise, even when barns are empty...
Reb MacRath said…
The world is indeed scary. The latest turn in expert thinking seems to be that the pandemic will become endemic...and with us in one form or another 'forever.' The best-case scenario I've heard is that somewhere far down the line those affected will survive as we now do mumps or the measles. Masks are the foreseeable future, I guess. And, compared to the alternative, we can and must live with that.
Rob, that possibly means - I think it must involve - some changes in human expectations and behaviour...!

Popular posts

The Year of Just Being There: Dipika Mukherjee looks back at 2016

A Few Discreet Words About Caesar's Penis--Reb MacRath

Close Reading | Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose | Karen Kao

A Week of Three Libraries -- Julia Jones

Why Would You Vote for Peter Duck? You Don’t Have To -- Julia Jones