Bright lights

Other people’s words about … living small

His approach, enjoying small spots of nature every day rather than epic versions of wilderness and escape, made sense to me. Big trips were the glaciers, cruise ships to Madagascar, the Verdon Gorge, the Cliffs of Moher, walking on the moon. Small trips were city parks with abraded grass, the occasional foray to the lake-woods of Ontario, a dirt pile. Smallness did not dismay me. Big nature travel — with its extreme odysseys and summit-fixated explorers — just seemed so, well, grandiose.The drive to go bigger and further just one more instance of the overreaching at the heart of Western culture.

I like smallness. I like the perverse audacity of someone aiming tiny.

From ‘Birds Art Life Death’
by Kyo Maclear

This week marks a new phase in the COVID-19 pandemic, as the world begins to open up again, economically. Here in South Australia, several restrictions will be lifted from 11 May. Cafes will reopen for outdoor eating; travel within the state (to holiday houses and campgrounds) will be encouraged; libraries will open their doors to patrons; swimming pools and community halls will be available for public use once more. All of these reopenings are accompanied by regulations that we could never have imagined prior to the pandemic, most of which are to do with the amount of people gathering in any one spot, and the distance they must keep between each other. But still, even with those rules in place for the foreseeable future, it’s clear that the lockdown is easing slowly.

And I am glad — glad that so few people are ill and dying here now in South Australia; glad that people whose livelihoods have been threatened by the closures of their businesses can now have a chance to make a living again; glad that people who have felt isolated and lonely during lockdown can go out into the world again and reconnect.

But also, I find myself feeling a little sad as the quiet time comes to an end.

Cafe life during the pandemic: the not-so-bright lights

Because, like Kyo Maclear, I, too, on the whole, like smallness. I don’t mean that I like illness or poverty or death — of course not. I don’t mean, either, that I can’t see how incredibly fortunate I’ve been (so far) during this pandemic, given that my health, and the health of all the people I love, remains intact. Given that I still have a job and an income.

But still, for the longest time — for as long as I can remember, in fact — I have felt out of tune with what Maclear calls the overreaching at the heart of Western culture. Over and over in my life, I have sought smallness over largeness; quietness over noise; scarcity over plenitude; closeness over distance; solitude over the throng. Often, this pursuit has felt less like a choice to me than a compulsion or a duty. Often, it has felt very lonely.

During the lockdown, though, as life has shrunk and quietened, as the crowds have thinned and ebbed away, I have seen my instincts and compulsions aligning themselves with the changing world around me. And in this quieter, smaller world, I have felt something inside of me loosen and release. I have felt, for once, at peace.

Through a window: looking up and out to the light

In the society I live in, a Western society like Maclear’s, we are encouraged to spend big, to think big. To live big. In tandem, we are encouraged to ignore the damage that results from doing so — the damage to the environment we live in, and the damage to the quiet places within ourselves, to the truths we feel in the smallness of our own hearts.

Coronavirus has affected the world on a global scale: its effects have been enormous, and they will be long-lasting. And yet, how perverse would it be, to borrow a word from Maclear, if what we take away from this catastrophe is a desire to live smaller, to aim tiny? How audacious? How — dare I say it — wonderful?

Deserted beach: this beautiful light

Lately I’ve been reading …

4 thoughts on “Bright lights

  1. I love your thought-provoking posts, Rebecca. I daresay I share your thoughts on living small, and like you, have preferred it that way most of my life. Overconsumption has brought us to this dire place and it was never something I could bring myself to do. I love the Earth too much to take more than a modest portion.
    I have really enjoyed the lack of traffic, both auto and airplane. I used to fantasize about what it must have been like before the internal combustion engine, never imagining I’d get a glimpse of that life. I wonder if all those who led a frenetic pace have enjoyed getting off the treadmill? Parents driving their kids to sports and music lessons, filled days, running here and there. I was never big on that kind of thing and the few things we did, I was happy when the season was over.
    It will be interesting to see how the world has changed as we move on with our lives. I’m expecting it to take a while to move past all this.
    Take care, stay well.

    1. Thank you, Eliza. I’ve always sensed a strong level of accord in your way of thinking/living and mine :). The pace of life is already ramping back up over here, even though the economic fallout will be long-lasting. I am mourning in advance the loss of clean air, quiet roads and quiet skies, along with the generally quieter mood that people seem to have had. I’ve found that people have been far more courteous and polite to each other during the lockdown, as we move about the world cautiously and at a distance from each other, as though the very fact of slowing down and staying at home has allowed us to have more time to show each other compassion. I hope that we will carry some of this with us back into the ‘new normal’, but I fear the opposite — that there will be a mad rush to return to more colourful, exciting lives. I fear that in that stampede back towards excitement, we will lose our gentler aspect. I’m surprised and shaken, actually, by how strongly I feel about all of this … You take care, too, and stay well xo

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