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Corona Diary: Entry 5
Week? Another one just went by.
The days and nights ebb and flow. When they flow it seems almost normal. There is a structure. I get up, I dress, I make my bed and my coffee. A meeting starts. People appear. We talk, we plan, we keep going. The afternoon light comes. A brisk walk out, supper made, drink drunk, kitchen cleaned. The rhythm of the day is intermittently interrupted by the new ritual of washing hands and sanitizing the space we pass through, the door knobs and light switches we touch. Night falls, the news is on. Cuomo appears. Maddow rants. Fox froths. A movie, a book, the lights go out. The day is done.
Then come those ebbing days. Those days you can’t help but feel that the waters around us are still receding, churning and gathering to feed the tsunami that is yet to come. There is a heaviness in our midst. As if a swarming soup of this microscopic viral load is in the air, tactically attacking our minds, our thoughts and our feelings, before it swoops in to invade our bodies.
I reach into my memory to seek out the stories, to the literary giants of our past in order to make sense of this nonsense. What comes to mind is a cocktail of George Orwell and Lewis Carroll, of Saadi of Sharaz and Attar. We are tumbling in that rabbit hole into a world where up is down and down is up. Big Brother is omnipresent in this nightmare as a selfish, incompetent buffoon, indifferent to the pain around him.
In this nightmare, abnormality is our new normal. Uncertainty our new certainty. The lies flow endlessly, night after night. It must be enticing to just drink the Fox Newsian, Trumpian, Borisian Kool-aid and feel the feelgood they peddle. After all, it would be nice to imagine that by next week, or next month, normal would be back; that we could revert back to our old ways of travel and hugging, of meeting face-to-face, and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers again.
But for those of us who still resist the lying, the incompetence, the pervasive opportunism – be it political or economic – that is on display, are nauseating, infuriating, debilitating.
The trouble is that the truth, sprinkled in our midst like rare fairy dust, does not set us free either. There is no vaccine on the horizon. There is no prospect of normality returning anytime soon. The truth, if we want to face it, tells us that this stop-and-go, freedom-and-lockdown status could go on for two years. Old ‘normal’ is unlikely to make a comeback.
It tells us that the more we learn, the less we know. This new virus with its twisted sense of irony and clear misanthropic strain likes to play a mix of Poker and Russian Roulette. We may all get it. But none of us know if it will be our body that gasps for air. Even if we were to be among the lucky ones that draw the ‘asymptomatic’ card, the ultimate Poker face that shows nothing, the deadly joke could still be on us. We would unknowingly pass it on, becoming the death of others. That is a heavy burden to carry through life.
What makes it worse is seeing how little some people care. We’ve had a month of a laconic lockdown, not like in Spain or Italy where the police are out patrolling the streets. No. Here in America, freedom is our right. A walk in the park, a jog on the street, the take-outs and curb-sides. We can’t do without them. But it’s not enough. The freedom fighters are fighting back. In rallies across the country, waving their Confederate flags and Jesus-is-our-Vaccine signs, they refuse to comply. They brandish their weapons, gunning for a fight. These anti-government types have always been at extreme edges of this patchwork American tapestry. But with an anti-government government ungoverning the nation, they’re now centre stage.
If all this isn’t enough to send our writers and poets back into the dusty past, then the political shenanigans of the lobbyists and lawyers will certainly send them running away. For, while we clap and cheer the health workers and struggle daily to keep our businesses going and salaries paid, up on Capitol Hill, our future is already being planned for us. The purveyors of arms, who have made us stockpile warehouses full of killing machines, are feeling vulnerable these days. After all, they’ve sold us a dirty bill of goods, always claiming to protect our ‘national security’, yet they are less than useless at this moment of intense national insecurity. They cannot provide masks or protective coverings. They can’t do the tests or provide the vaccines. Their billion dollar drone can’t nuke this virus or its future cousins. These defence contractors are seeing the writing on the wall, but being flush with cash and having an exclusive revolving door between industry and state, they have got their hands on the pens that drafted the rescue bills. So here we are: the merchants of death are deemed to be ‘essential workers’ benefitting from the trillion dollar cheques, while our essential workers stare death in the face, day in day out, without enough masks or gloves or protective gear.
It is saddening, maddening, demoralizing.
It would be easy to stay in bed, to switch off the world, to put High Society on a perpetual loop and let Armstrong, Sinatra, Crosby croon. It would be just as easy to give in to the lure of ‘Fox and Friends’ and join the happy clappy crowd who think all’s well. It would even be comforting to imagine a conspiratorial state, with evil but competent men at the helm. At least it implies that someone is in control. Someone knows what’s going on. But we don’t have that either. Instead to one side we have lazy, egotistical blaggards running our states (the US and the UK), and to the other, we have ourselves. You, and me, and all of us.
We can’t let the extremists on our screens win this fight. They spew their fear and hate and their racism at us, hoping that we’ll be infected and will start pointing fingers at each other.
But no, we won’t. Our strategy must be to stick together. We must refuse to buy into the Chinese virus or the Jewish hoax. We must push back against the self-serving mentality that claims Muslims or Christians or Hindus alone are immune because they’re more Godly than God.
This brings me to Saadi of Shiraz whose C13th verse could have been written today.
Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
The name of human you cannot retain.
Here’s where Attar’s Conference of the Birds comes in. It is a C12th Sufi tale of a band of birds traveling through mountain peaks and seven valleys through snowstorms and dust storms to find their leader. Their journey, like ours was unknown. The destination unclear, the past behind them, the future ahead. They went in search of wisdom and leadership, only to find that it was always within themselves. This is us today. We may ebb, but we have to flow and fly – together.
The coronavirus has tolerance for neither exceptionalism nor herd immunity. But herd immunity is our best defence against the divisive exceptionalism peddled by our dear leaders.
Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini is co-founder of the International Civil Action Society Network (ICAN). ICAN has established a network of women civil society leaders in the Middle East and North Africa who are at the frontline of tackling extremism and militarism, while promoting peace, rights and pluralism. She has been a leading international advocate, researcher, trainer and writer on conflict prevention and peace-building. She was among the civil society drafters of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. She provides strategic guidance and training to key UN agencies, governments and NGOs worldwide, and is the author of Women Building Peace: What they do, and why it matters.