Quote from Arundhati Roy: ‘The pandemic is a portal’
“Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality”, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.
Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.
We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.” Arundhati Roy
I have been thinking about this a lot over the last 5 months. Thinking is what I do. I strive to make sense of things, to connect the dots, as it were. In this case I am striving to connect the dots between the current confluence of assorted pandemics: Covid-19, the long term, ongoing pandemic of racism, the long term pandemic of exploitation of peoples, animals, plants, ecosystems, and governments for the purpose of bringing short term profits and power to a few people, and the long term and ongoing erosion of common, core values such as kindness, generosity, compassion, integrity, honesty, and creation care, which can be found woven through most cultures regardless of religion or creed and what that means to me as I continue to participate in my own creation.
I have had the privilege of living a sheltered life. I can look upon these events, for the moment at least, as though through a window. From that place of privilege I could even choose to shutter the window and avoid looking out and I have, in fact, done that from time to time. I am not sure that it is a bad thing to do that if you use the time productively, to prepare yourself to go out past the window and actually live in and participate in the chaos that is building a new system. Being able to avoid looking out, going out is, and I want to be very clear on this, it is huge privilege that very few people have and it is a privilege that, when invoked, should not be indulged for long or squandered.
I want to be very clear: Very, very few of us have the shelter of the window to look through. Most people are living on the streets, literally or metaphorically, of these failed, hate filled systems. I use the word hate not just to describe an emotion, although that is often part of it, but to also describe the act of pushing something away from oneself. We push difficult things away from us in a variety of ways both actively or passively. Actively hating looks like calling the police on someone who “looks sketchy”. I mean, seriously, we all look “sketchy” from time to time and, unless the person looks like a total derelict, most white people don’t have the police called on them for their sketchiness. We push the difficult away through denial, telling ourselves our subconscious stories about who we are and what we would do in a given situation like trying to believe we wouldn’t call the cops on a black person just because he called us out on our attempt to exert our privilege by ignoring the park rules.
The one thing I know to be true about myself: I never know exactly what I’ll do until I am faced with difficult choices. I have learned this by having my values stories challenged more than once by difficult choices. More than once I have failed to uphold the value I was sure I would follow because it would have been too difficult. Or I was having a bad day. Or something equally ignoble.
The point is, I think we need to look carefully and humbly at the stories we tell ourselves as individuals and as a society. We need to evaluate what normal was and ask if it is worth going back to. As far as I am concerned, it isn’t. We do need a new normal. We aren’t in it yet. We need to construct our new normal society and I am hopeful that the conversations these converging pandemics are eliciting will support that if we are persistent, strong, and humble. We, each of us, also need to construct a new normal self in these challenging times. We need, as Arundhati Roy says, to let go of the baggage of the past and start fresh with our lightened load. We need to do this individually. Then we need to help our culture do the same.