Other people’s words about … a changing world
When I first arrived [in Rome] I cried almost every day for a month. Over nothing; over the state of the world; the news I saw on television; over the loveliness of the autumn sunshine on soft old stone. Great, wrenching sobs that came and went in moments and left me dazed.
From ‘In My Skin’
by Kate Holden
I’m writing this post on the day before Easter, 9 April 2020, a day in which, according to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, the number of people who have contracted the coronavirus globally has reached 1,504,971. Of those, 87,984 people have died, and 318,068 people have recovered. Meanwhile, here in Australia, where the virus has barely (yet) made a dent, we are being encouraged to stay at home for the Easter break, instead of going away as so many of us usually do.
Stay home, we are being told. Stay well. Stop the spread.
Lunchtime view: On the pontoon (1)
It’s impossible to say how many Australians will obey these directives. Impossible to say, if we don’t, how many cases of coronavirus there will be here in two weeks’ time. Impossible to say, therefore, what the world, our world, will look like in two weeks’ time.
And what of the aftermath? When this crisis is over — when the COVID-19 pandemic has run its course, as we are being told it will — what will our world look like then? Will our lives simply resume where they left off? Or will the way we live, the world we walk through, be changed forever?
Impossible to say.
In her memoir In My Skin, Kate Holden tells the story of her addiction to heroin: how she became addicted, what it was like, how she moved on. For her, the process of getting clean involved as much loss and grief as it did relief and joy: the world around her seemed strange, and new, and exhausting.
All I did, in the daytime, was walk. On the move until I was too baffled by weariness to feel anything, I wandered, almost every day, through the soft ochre streets, the narrow old spaces, learning the city, studying it. I made myself a scholar again, and sat in the cold sunshine of a city that had withstood destruction and rebirth many times, and let myself be suffused with dreaming. I walked in different weathers and times of day, learning about change and constancy. In quietness, I walked Rome. Sometimes I worked up the courage to venture further.
It’s autumn here in Australia, and the days are filled with the kind of still, gentle, lovely sunshine that Holden describes in the first of the passages I’ve quoted above. Because of COVID-19, I can’t fly to Rome, as she did in the aftermath of her heroin addiction, to wander the old streets and learn the world anew. Nor can you.
But: I made myself a scholar again, Holden writes; and this, I think, is something all of us can do right now, wherever we are in the world. We can watch and walk and study and learn.
Lunchtime view: On the pontoon (2)
The world is changing, and so, inevitably, will we. One day, when this is over, we will venture further again, whatever venturing may mean, whatever further may mean.
In the quietness of this strange, new, exhausting world, here, at least, is something we can do.
Lately I’ve been reading …
- … Quarantine teaches me what I’ve already been taught, but I’ll never learn —- that there are so many other ways to be lonely besides the particular way I am lonely: Leslie Jamison’s description of living with COVID-19 in her apartment in the US, alone with her daughter.
- … My sister told me that [my mother] Joyce Wark was brave and proud and reserved, that she didn’t let her feeling show, that she went out of this life keeping her suffering to herself: Mckenzie Wark’s thoughts on how the mother she barely knew has shaped her into the person, and the writer, she has become.