What This Time has Meant
July 8, 2020
by Judith McGill
I think what I find most remarkable about living through this global pandemic, is the dawning awareness that I share this experience in common with some 7.8 billion other souls around the world. There has been no place in the world that has not felt the impact of the pandemic, whether it has been big or small. I feel for the first time in my life that I am not a particle floating around in the world alone.
I feel myself in the weft and the warp of life, being woven into the larger fabric. I notice in practical ways how each of the threads are connected to one another. How our destinies are brought together into an interdependent whole.
I feel a noticeable difference in my understanding of how each country impacts the whole, the seen and unseen interconnections and how ultimately, they must rely on the moral and ethical behaviour of one another. I have been more able or more willing to bear witness to the colonialism of our time. The distinct inequities of the have and have nots. The pandemic has pushed those in power to expose their soft bellies and lay out who will be protected from the illness and who will not.
With great humility, I have begun to acknowledge that who I am and what I am, is meaningful to the whole. I am part of the great breathing of the world, the in and the out breath, regardless of whether I have felt it before or not.
That means in this time of excruciating aloneness, I am not alone. I am one infinitesimal part of a much greater project. I have a role to play. What role is that? What responsibility do I have to the earth and to others? How culpable am I in contributing to the desecration of the planet? Why have I not been moved to action when I have sensed the wailing cry and desperation of the earth and the rapid extinction of other sentient beings? Why have I not wanted to address how my lifestyle impacts the whole?
I realize painfully now, how my privilege and affluence has shielded me from most of the detrimental impacts of the pandemic. It has shielded me from exposure points that others could not avoid. It has shielded me from the personal impact of loss and death. Yet I still find myself clinging to that protection and security, floundering around in my privilege, wondering what I truly am prepared to forego.
I have recognized that my lens, the thing I get drawn back to over and over again, is to look at how much the pandemic has created a tsunami of grief and sorrow around the world.
We have been faced with the truth of our own mortality and the mortality of our loved ones. We have come face to face with what it means to live with monumental uncertainty and losses, the kinds of losses that change the shape of things as we know it. We recognize how economic security is simply an ideology, an untruth. We see how global economies are predicated on tenuous assumptions of growth and unending prosperity. We experience the heaviness in our hearts that seems to come from nowhere in particular and everywhere at once.
We live with an untethered sense of grief and loss, some knowable, some less discernible and nevertheless felt. We sense that we are grieving with the earth as it faces its own demise and feel unable to take notable action. We are living the discomfort of the times trying hard to breathe and fearing to forecast the near and distant future.
While we have no idea whether we are nearing the end of this pandemic or just pausing as the next wave hits the shore, we are all on the lookout for evidence that things are changing and things will be different or are already different since before the pandemic.
I careen from one view to its opposite, feeling fatigued by the uncertainly and unknowing. I realize that forming hypotheses and then surrendering them is the new normal.
At times, I am heartened by the thought that something significant has changed in our global psyche.
That all people have felt the threat of their own mortality and that has changed and realigned their priorities in some way.
That people have been forced to fall back into that which they cherish the most, their kinship with others.
That people have chosen to follow certain public health prohibitions not only for their own protection but for the protection of others. I have hope that it has softened the edges around the “my tribe vs. your tribe” and progress has been made on the holding of each other’s humanity as sacred.
Then suddenly I take a radical departure with my thoughts and begin assessing the dark edges of social Darwinism, where some are being judged as worthy of the scarce resources of healthcare while others are not. Current triage protocols and essential visitor policies send a clear message to all of us that social capital algorithms do not favor keeping our societies elders and people with disabilities alive.
As I have borne witness over the past three months to how thin the veil of civility is, and what happens when this it is finally lifted off to expose the racist practices of our law enforcement agencies and ordinary citizens, I was moved to write this reflective piece below.
“Where we Stand”
Carefully observing the trespasses against real people who live in perilous circumstances not of their own making.
Taken up with the insidious ways these trespasses are committed one by one, until the acts themselves dissolve, disappear into the masses of those trespassed against and those we have come to call “marginalized groups.”
As if by calling people marginalized, a form of attrition has been made, acknowledgement has saved us, concern has been expressed enough to relieve the pressure of privilege and influence.
Striving a day at a time to lay bare the unthinking thinking, the unconscious thinking and feeling of privilege.
What a great irony- that white people get to call it "unconscious biases” - that which is out of our control, that we can tidy up or make amends for, so that the messy realities of affluence can be side stepped in some way.
The promise we carry, that if we become more conscious of our own fear and hatred, more aware of those people we have contempt for or feel threatened by, we will overcome it. We come to construe greater awareness or consciousness as if it is an antidote for our privilege and propensity to look away and carry on. And yet consciousness must always serve love.
How do we truly confront those biases, prejudices, bigotry and hatred that consciously get played out against real people, who are living in real families, to preserve privilege, even when it is detected and squarely faced?
How unfortunate that these same biases are what begin to fester and get people killed and worse yet, that propagate systemic barriers to inclusion, belonging and hospitality.
Perhaps deep dialogue and wise and authentic ally-ship are the only meaningful deeds of our day? The inner knowing that black lives matter.
This may in fact be the only way to build a culture of understanding, where we meet in the territory of our humanity and begin as if every action mattered greatly.
Where we truly shelter mercifully in the arms of one another.
I then feel deep in my soul that we are rising, we are rising to meet our collective shadow and nothing will stop us. We are rising because the earth calls for change. Global markets and economics are falling apart because they have failed us morally, and as each of us find our bearings again, we will sense this upsurge of rightness and goodness. It is time to rise up and be part of what is emerging, arising in our nascent souls. Let our deeds speak louder than our words.