I’ve been turning over thoughts on the lived human experience of right now, locked in lockdown, confined to ourselves and the lassoed quiescence of our lives.
And I came across – and loved – this poem (below) by Irish poet John O’Donnell, which talks of the quietude of the world during COVID-19, with all of us stopped, and stiller and slower, turned away into ourselves, more silent and skinned and unhinged, unshackled from the blind, incessant hurtle of the world before.
As O’Donnell suggests, maybe in time, over the curve, after all this, we should all just push STOP, call up common sense, and make a global pact to permanently take off three months a year to build in these periods of dormancy and reset in the unrelenting calendar of our lives, so we can find a way to let the Earth – and ourselves – heal, and hear, and hold for a little while.
Perhaps this pandemic is our great teacher, our Carl Sagan “pale blue dot” moment, whereby we can never unsee, never go back, to who and what we thought we all were, because we have opened our eyes – and minds – for the first time, to the ugly magnificence of humanity – fragile – flawed – futile – gasping – forever connected as one dot.
And maybe our challenge before we come out of this, is to live without forgetting so we don’t, the day they say ‘No masks!’, race outside into our cars and the light and our lives despite ourselves, and lurch violently into the longed for of before.
Maybe we should instead just PAUSE, and stand in the raw human knowing of now for a bit, so we don’t too hastily fold our open hearts away and wind up spinning giddy again on the empty carousel of our unthinking, unblinking everyday.
Wars rage, empires fall, flus and famines make their mark. As Sagan said, “There is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.” Earth is the only world – and home – we have.
So over the curve, let’s not shovel the rubble to the roadsides, torch all the masks and erase this tract of time.
Let’s take the lessons that are in plain sight.
And look again at that pale blue dot: “That’s here. That’s home.”
“And when this ends we will emerge, shyly
and then all at once, dazed, longhaired as we embrace
loved ones the shadow spared, and weep for those
it gathered in its shroud. A kind of rapture, this longed-for
laying on of hands, high cries as we nuzzle, leaning in
to kiss, and whisper that now things will be different,
although a time will come when we’ll forget
the curve’s approaching wave, the hiss and sigh
of ventilators, the crowded, makeshift morgues;
a time when we may even miss the old-world
arm’s-length courtesy, small kindnesses left on doorsteps,
the drifting, idle days, and nights when we flung open
all the windows to arias in the darkness, our voices
reaching out, holding each other till this passes.”
– John O’Donnell (2020)
PALE BLUE DOT
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
– Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994