There’s an uneasy calm in the air that I’m only now starting to experience as a special flavour of generalized anxiety.
It’s as if I was expecting this, or something like this, to happen sooner or later.
An interruption of our regularly scheduled programming of daily commutes and normal commerce. A break in the carbonifying routine of global capitalism.
The sub-category of spiritual manifesting that I follow, reality transurfing, says that the dominance of the COVID-19 pandemic over our awareness is one form of what’s called a “pendulum”, an energy form created from human attention that becomes its own semi-sentient entity, always hungry for more.
The concept certainly feels like an accurate description of this phenomenon of feeling. It feels like there’s a presence in the air, suspending and dispersing our ordinary conventions the way an east wind disperses the morning fog.
The last time I felt something like this way was during the 2003 Blackout that affected Greater Toronto and most of the Eastern Seaboard of North America.
That summer night was magical because it was if we had all been snapped out of a trance. Neighbours in the subdivision where our old family home sat in Brampton found themselves shaking hands and learning each other’s names for the first time after years of living side by side. Many hundreds of us got out to walk together to the park and see the meteor shower, and got back just in time to see a near-full moon rising above the candle-lit houses.
That night, I learned that it takes losing one or more components of modern living to rediscover the power and luminosity of natural moonlight, or to look at meteors streaking across multitudes of stars visible now from ground that hadn’t seen them in a century.
We knew it would be temporary. Civilization was not going to end, and this was just a blip of a few days (or hours, in our case, as power was restored early the next morning).
Under such circumstances, panic and anxiety ease as the interlude sets in, and we savour the respite from routine as we do a coffee break on a busy day at the office.
That’s not the case with COVID-19.
We’re only at the start of it now, and maybe the reason this crisis occurs for me as not quite panic because as a freelance ghostwriter and indie author, staying at home and avoiding social outings isn’t much of a change from my regular routine.
By contrast, we’ve now got daily commuters and parents now having to spend time at home with their children as schools close up for a few weeks may have a bigger shock.
Minimum wage workers and service industry professionals find themselves flirting with bankruptcy and unemployment as a result of quarantine and social distancing.
No, I’m well positioned to manage this kind of crisis. I am grateful for that, and my lifestyle means I’m accustomed to observing the goings-on of the world at a fair distance.
What will we discover about ourselves during this intermission? What will we learn about our children? I’m not a parent, but I remember enough about being a kid to know that when kids start school, their parents see less of them compared to the first few years of life.
As such, most of their personalities, their interests, their idiosyncrasies develop out of sight, unremarked until some incident — a fight at school, or a party thrown at the house while the parents are away — surprises Mom and/or Dad. “I never knew they were like this!” the parents may remark. Maybe now, with at least 2–3 weeks where families are likely stay together under one roof, parents may have the chance to catch up with their kids, see what’s new.
We’ve seen greenhouse gas emissions drop in China where early quarantines took place, and will likely see similar recurrences around the developed world as this virus makes its way around. A mixed blessing, maybe? A slowing of planetary systems back from the abyss? A respite?
We’ve already rediscovered a few things that we’d forgotten. We’ve seen that that governments and political parties that claim to never have money for social programs can somehow come up with massive trillion dollar bailouts for big corporations.
That perfectly reasonable, fully developed adults are susceptible to irrational mob behaviours of the kind that can only happen in sheltered, privileged, First World populations who haven’t known war or famine or disaster at home.
That too many aspects of our daily lives — how we work, how we teach, our measures of what makes us “successful”, our definition of “normal” — are social constructs, “inventions and ghosts”, as Robert Pirsig once called them in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, evanescent and easily upended by the world at anytime.
All human constructs are subject to natural law. We forget this sometimes. And nature reminds us.
It’s hard to not check social media for updates, to look away from the news stations on the TVs at my mostly-empty gym that is still open (for now).
Twitter, as always, is too predictable: the naturally-paranoid users who jumped ahead to panic way before the WHO declared “pandemic” gloat and lord it over everyone else in an egoistic grasp for significance.
The spiritual bypassers whose belief systems have, at their core, a fundamentalist notion that this world isn’t real anyway so there’s no point in believing any of this is happening so we may as well retreat to our crystals and yoga studios.
Political junkies resharing updates as if they were one-person CNN or Fox News stations. Disaster porn addicts retweeting the horror stories and Pollyannas focusing only on the good. Foodies like me sharing their quarantine cuisine and experts with true knowledge in the appropriate fields sharing their infographics with little fanfare.
Predictable behaviour, all of it, and likely the only predictable thing about this whole situation.
As time has gone on — two days from the start of this wandering, wondering thinkpiece to the end — I’m thinking less of the 2003 Blackout and more of 9/11. There is a growing feeling that we crossed a threshold that we will never get to retreat behind again. The world and way of life we knew weeks ago are gone, and they’re not coming back.
All of my professional meetings and events have been cancelled. I have writing work to do. I have enough money for now, though I’m ever on the razor’s edge of stability. I’m grateful. I’m privileged. Others aren’t so lucky. What will happen to them?
I’m waiting for the government to close the border to the largely-untested Americans and closing commercial airspace to the rest of the world. I’m waiting for a true quarantine order to come down.
I’m waiting for some of my housemates to stop letting me clean everything and take some initiative without me having to ask them.
I’m waiting to bake some bread from home.
What a strange, delicate mix of things this is, these sprinklings of the mundane on such extraordinary happenings.
It’s 1:30 A.M. now as I finish this. Monday, March 16th, 2020. A date stamp seems relevant here, given that we don’t know for sure what’s ahead, only that we’re at the very start of this thing and the butterfly effects of what lies ahead are too many and too multiplicitous to forecast with any measure of certainty. We may want to look back on this moment of calm for temporary relief somewhere down the line.
Our standard forecasting model involves taking similar past events, seeing how they turned out, and extrapolating them to apply to the present situation. That doesn’t always work, however, and at best it’s an educated guess. Often, realities on the ground rapidly outpace our contexts of understanding of how to address them. Just read “The Guns of August” by Barbara Tuchman to get a vivid understanding of this principle. Sometimes, something new happens.
No, I can’t make any certain predictions about how this will go. No one can. No one ever could.
All I can do is hope.
Hope that the extraordinary measures we’re taking now will blunt the spread of this virus and lead to faster recovery.
Hope that we will indeed see the death of that old conservative “bootstrap” mentality in how we manage our society and that new paradigms of working, health care, environmental harmony, and housing will finally take root in policy.
Hope that we will take advantage of the drop in emissions to run with further reductions and maybe possibly save ourselves from global climate change.
Hope that the world that emerges after this one will hearken the new age that the spiritual ones have long dreamt about.
Hope, above all else and against all odds, that it’ll all be okay.
That’s the best I can do for now. The rest, we’ll just have to see.
Until then, the uneasy calm in the air continues…