These are treacherous times. We have to put one foot in front of the other, and try not to slip.
These are anxious times. We have to close our eyes, count to ten, pray, meditate, take deep breaths.
These are angry times. We have to hold onto our reason; some people have abandoned theirs, and seem to be reveling in it.
These are hurtful times. Anger has spilled over and there is a lot of pain. There is also stupidity – which often has the same effect.
Above all, these are uncertain times. The stars whizzing round the Universe are making us dizzy. Is it daytime or night? My mother in law, in her nineties, calls to ask what day of the week it is; she can’t remember. Sometimes, neither can I.
COVID-19 has been a catalyst for the turmoil we now find ourselves in – this turning Planet Earth and its inhabitants. I believe it started before COVID, though. We are now under curfew, under grey skies, retreating again, waiting for more rain. It is a quiet, inner turmoil for many of us, personally. I have become more superstitious; I think about omens and signs and I cling onto more small things that give me joy.
I am bathed in memories; they pour into my brain helter-skelter at times. Remembering family, friends, and perhaps above all, places: the corner of a beach where we used to sit in the late afternoon sun, while our son played along the water’s edge, not wanting to leave yet. Remembering the farm near a friend’s house in Vermont, where we would pick up eggs just laid and milk still warm. Remembering the silky waters of a wetland, and the clumps of green trees, in waves going down to a silver sea. Remembering the villa where we stayed with my parents once, at the top of the hill, surrounded by old lemon trees and doves. Remembering my parents’ house in France, the wallpaper in the downstairs bathroom, the walks by the vineyards and the fields of sunflowers.
Perhaps we think of places because many of us are not going anywhere. I am certainly not. Because we are limited physically, we are conscious of space and the time that floats around in that space. The best thing to do, I find, is to leave that alone, and tell oneself: I am here, I am here now and I am alive. The world is turning but my feet are on the ground.
So, I try to live in the moments that are given to me, staving off the floods of memories and dangerous thoughts like: “Will I ever see my family again?” I try not to get angry or anxious or hurt or afraid to move. I listen to the small flocks of parrots that fly over the house every evening, calling to each other. I try not to eat too much ice cream. I take photos of tiny treasures in the garden, and billowing clouds in the evening.
Perhaps many of us are living similar versions of what I do – trying to keep a balance in our lives. Others seem to have no concept of balance any more. In the UK, thousands of people are protesting against the COVID-19 restrictions – while their country has the highest number of deaths in Europe. They know this, but they don’t care; they want their old lives back. Even our own politicians are becoming thin-skinned and touchy, as they see their grand plans and promises turning to nothing. We humans are not as impressive as we thought we were. So we are throwing a tantrum.
Too bad. Meanwhile, people are dying. In Jamaica, we have a few deaths every day – “males” and “females” (why not men and women?) There is loss, grief and many families now mourning the deaths of 171 humans in Jamaica, and trying to get them buried with dignity.
There is unrest everywhere. In Thailand, pro-democracy protests persist. Azerbaijan and Armenia recently decided to start a little war of their own – and why not, since Russia, Turkey and Iran are taking an interest in the proceedings. In Iraq, political tensions simmer close to the surface on a daily basis. In Yemen, there is a toxic combination of a political crisis, Saudi bombs and thousands of starving children. Syrian cities have turned into dust and rubble, and their ruler is still there.
We also have the chaos and histrionics of pre-election Trumpland, a President pumped up with drugs, and the fear and loathing that is America, 2020. We know more than anything about this.
Even machines and man-made creations are threatening destruction. An elderly Venezuelan oil tanker off the coast of Trinidad is listing terribly, threatening to spill some sixty million gallons of crude oil into the sea. Way out in space, a dead Russian satellite narrowly avoided a serious crash with an equally dead Chinese rocket body a few days ago – something no human could have controlled.
And Nature is hurting. It is putting out its own anger, its own anxiety. Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa, has lost its famous ice cap and is now ringed in flames. Climate change is twisting the knife, hard. The ghost of extinction haunts hundreds of species, large and small. We are not over and out of the hurricane season quite yet, although we are into Greek letters. In the Caribbean, we are all nervously wondering whether there will be a Hurricane Epsilon.
Because, to the south of us there is indeed some kind of system growing. It is round and appears to be a circle of thunderstorms, rotating. It is called a “gyre.” According to the weather people, “The gyre can persist for a few days to a few weeks and can lead to long-term unsettled conditions.”
An online friend who is an astrologer (and really inspired this post) pointed out that all of this may be a “necessary dip into darkness” before we begin to move towards the light again. It seems very dark, and very deep to me. The new moon is fueling aggression, meanwhile, says my astrological friend. So, as I said, let’s step carefully.
I find oddly disturbing things online, that seem to point to something. I watched in puzzlement as an “ice resurfacer” (I didn’t know there was such a thing) on an ice rink in Rochester New York inexplicably caught fire, continuing its journey round and round, flames burning merrily until it slowly grounded itself at the side of the rink. It seemed yet another example of the aimless state we are in. A metaphor, if you like. I see these manifestations every day, and wonder if they mean something.
Because yes – we are spinning, round and round like the ice resurfacer in slow motion. We are in that gyre – a ponderously turning ring of storms and rain and lightning and clouds that can continue for weeks.
This word immediately reminded me of W.B. Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming.” Apparently, Yeats’ gyre was a cycle of history that began with the birth of Christ. He believed this was ending and that a new cycle would begin – a cruel, aggressive, cycle. The falcon, not being able to hear the falconer, moves in an ever-widening circle away from him. Remember that Yeats wrote this poem soon after the end of the First World War – a crushing, empty, cruel conflict (as they all are) that was called “The war to end all wars.” But of course it wasn’t.
For the meteorologists, a gyre brings long-term unsettled conditions. Well, that sounds like 2020, and the prospects beyond. But, who knows. As my friend suggests, that brightness may be the beyond. A new beginning.
To cherish what remains of the Earth and to foster its renewal is our only legitimate hope of survival. – Wendell Berry
As for me, I will stick with Nature.