“We’ll meet again,
Don’t know where, don’t know when,
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day,
Keep smiling through Just like you always do,
‘Til the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away.”
– Singer Vera Lynn
“Life is not what happens to you. It is how you react that matters.” – Stoic philosopher Epictetus
After a couple of months of lockdown, the world is now waking up from a giant Sabbath and slowly but surely returning to work. The Sabbath, as you well know, is a holy day and a time for rest. Jesus is quoted as saying ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The Old Testament states ‘For six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you must cease, so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your maidservant may be refreshed, as well as the foreign resident.’ But since most of us on the planet have stopped believing that the Sabbath is a holy occasion and the day for complete rest, family time, meditation and prayers, something invisible, call it nature, decided that it was time for a giant Sabbath.
So now we have spent 2 months resting and hopefully meditating, praying and spending time with our families and are ready to get going. Yet the virus has not been vanquished nor are there any new vaccines or treatments on the horizon. According to the publication, The Economist, scientific papers on the virus are being published at the highest rate ever – ‘Since January the number of publications has been doubling every 14 days, reaching 1,363 in the past week alone.’ The media and the Internet are full of information that makes all sorts of statements, predictions, likely scenarios, conspiracies, accusations and truisms but no guarantees or clarity. There is no answer and no security.
What there is, is the realization that life goes on and we all need to find a way to move forward. There are all kinds of challenges and unknowns but to quote the remarkable deaf-blind author and political activist Helen Keller, “Security is mostly a superstition, it does not exist in nature nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” The psychiatrist and neurologist, Viktor Frankl, who wrote a book called ‘Man’s Search For Meaning’ a memoir of his life in Nazi concentration camp wrote “Between stimulus and response there is a space in that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
The Roman Emperor and well-known stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius Antoninus wrote a book called ‘The Meditations’ in the middle of a plague which killed approximately 5 million people. According the Guardian newspaper many people view the book “as a manual for developing precisely the mental resilience skills required to cope with a pandemic.” In the book Marcus asks himself the question “What virtue has nature given me to deal with this situation?” It seems to me like an excellent question to ask ourselves in order to navigate the unknowns that are awaiting us. To quote Marcus, “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
And strength is what is now required more than ever to get our communities back on their feet, to make appropriate changes – whether to keep the virus at bay or to prevent another such virus or to avoid any other potential calamities created by humanity or nature. The challenge is immense. To quote one of my favoured writers from my youth Kurt Vonnegut “We’re here to help each other through this thing, whatever it is.” In a week or two or three we may be free to go back to work in our offices and go back to some of our old activities and habits. But some things will never be the same. That in the whole scheme of things may not be so bad. It may even be a beginning of a better world. Some of it I can already see now.
Here in Toronto for example, reluctantly and with no enthusiasm, our Mayor has announced ‘more space’ on 50 km of roads for pedestrians and cyclists. This will make many car owners very unhappy and they will do everything possible to regain what they feel they have lost. I expect some heavy lobbying and complaints. But in the words of Brian Greene, a theoretical physicist, mathematician and author of the book – Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe – “I’d like to focus on the good side of things. And that to me borders’ almost on reverence for the fact that we are here at all.” And while we are here in this evolving universe the writer Tracy Cochran suggests that “meaning is an action; we make meaning through our actions. You exist in a web of life: this was the message. You are part of nature and part of the human community. And when you give, you receive something.“