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Essay

A Prison of Our Own Making

The massive impact of a minuscule virus has been felt around the world, but what has it done to our sense of freedom and independence, asks Keith Lyons

Study of Sea and Sky, Isle of Wight by Turner (1775-1851) Courtesy: Creative Commons

The Covid-19 pandemic, which continues to ravage the world, has been like a mass experiment. The shared experience of apprehension, despair, and hope has highlighted the inter-connectedness of everybody and everything. 

Paradoxically, to combat the virus, we’ve had to give up something of our own selfishness and desire for the status quo, to unite and work together with trust that others will do the same. And we’ve had to keep our physical distance, while at the same time forging deeper bonds and more honest communication. It has been both an outer journey through these times — or more of a non-journey in being locked-down – as well as something of an inner journey as we reflect, discover what’s really important, and re-orient our lives. 

The mass experiment has revealed so many different approaches and coping mechanisms, and the reality that there is no escape, for the way out is through. Even the milestone of being personally vaccinated is no longer the endpoint, as the broader consideration is that we human beings are only as strong as the weakest link, and until everyone has trained their immune system to combat the Covid virus, its continued existence threatens us all. 

One lesson from the mass experiment on 7.674 billion people is that things will never be the same again, and that we won’t get back to the normality of pre-2020. The deeper learning from the event is that life means change. And everything is in a state of flux. As the world churns, we must find ourselves again, and realise that amidst disruptions we can still find our centre. 

There is much talk about resilience: the ability to adapt well to any challenges faced. Resilience isn’t just a personal outlook or habit. And it isn’t about being tough, having endurance, going it alone or taking on the mantra ‘think positive’. It is said those who are ‘resilient’ aren’t so despite pain, struggle and failure, but because of it. 

As we move out of stay-at-home lockdowns and into vaccination clinic queues, and then into the new world post-pandemic, towards the politicians’ goal of ‘business as usual’  and the announcement of ‘Freedom Days ’ at long last, perhaps the truth will eventually dawn on us: that we were always free. 

American writer William Faulkner, who lived through the influenza pandemic of 1918, noted in one of his letters, ‘It’s queer how the people one thinks would live forever are the first to go’. 

The novelist wrote, ‘We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it’.

Keith Lyons (keithlyons.net) is an award-winning writer, author and creative writing mentor, who gave up learning to play bagpipes in a Scottish pipe band to focus on after-dark tabs of dark chocolate, early morning slow-lane swimming, and the perfect cup of masala chai tea. Find him@KeithLyonsNZ or blogging at Wandering in the World (http://wanderingintheworld.com).

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