Difficult and Beautiful Times

March 17, 2020
By: 
Hilary Leighton

This sad snake (or pangolin?) virus has wound its way into full view to afford us a glimpse of a world slowed (and very soon, coming to a grinding halt); is providing necessary breathing space for a distressed, disconnected and disrupted Gaian planetary system that has suffered an irreversible loss of biodiversity. Reduced travel, reduced consumerism (barring a run on tp, hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, rubber gloves and face masks), a ban on exotic, live animal trade, reduced pollution (as people stay home) and with that Co2 emissions, all offer a moment of restorative grace on this global runaway train. I couldn’t have been happier to read in the Times Colonist that the ‘floating petri dish’ cruise ships will not be docking here for some time to come. You see, I am a daughter living with her 91-year-old mother and these measures help contain what may prove deadly to her and her cohort.

Make no mistake, stopping all commerce is not a lasting or sustainable solution either. And with sincere compassion, these silver linings can pale in the face of the pain and suffering people have endured or the experiences of profound loss and fears over the rising death toll from this disease. Margaret Atwood recently remarked, “extinction is a choice”. Now we have seen it. The power of conscious choice – to say ‘no', to refuse, to cancel, to stop, to slow, to stay home and it hasn’t killed us, while the alternative could. I trust that very soon we will see the powerful and positive effects containment will have on flattening of the curve of the spread if we stay the course.

As an ecopsychologist, I would like to offer another Rx measure. Please go out to the woods. Here, the Indian plum is unfurling her leaves or to the spring meadows where the more-than-humans – the Douglas Fir, pine, fern, lichen and mosses, owls, robins and wrens, streams and dark lakes do not carry this virus and have no need of disinfectant wipes. Or go out into your own backyard for that matter where Spring is (soon) revealing herself in tender and blossoming ways, showing us all that renewal after a difficulty is not only possible but perennial. There you will find reciprocity in wild companionship with wise and resilient non-human teachers to help guide us through these times. If this remarkable moment in history can teach us anything at all, it reminds us that we are all connected in an interconnected world and what we do to the one, we do to all the others or in other words, what we do to and for ourselves, affects all other life and vice versa. We are in this together and we need one another. By caring for yourself right now, you are in fact caring for all others. Imagine self-care as communion, what an opportunity!

How we have lived, what we have done to this jewelled planet and its glorious inhabitants in order to feed insatiable and extravagant lifestyles will come back to bite us (even harder) if we refuse this call NOW to awake to a more possible, sane and just world in service of all life. I wonder when all of this tamps down (and it will), can we still muster the will to make continued sacrifices and to really change our ways? What if the alternatives were beautiful? This week ingenious and heartbreaking examples of adaptation and response keep pouring in. The Seattle Symphony announced free broadcasts and livestreams, Paris museums put 100,000 images of masterpieces online for free unrestricted use, deserted Italian streets ring out with a song from apartment windows as people sing to one another in isolation and because we enjoy amazing advancements in technology we can easily gather ourselves over the telephone, teleconferencing, social media and email so we may continue to reach out with our hearts rather than our hands for a while. I place my faith in humans and particularly if we all act as if everything we do now will make a world of difference – because it will. I pray we all remember this in the months to come.