Discover more from Adventures of Bad Hijabi
going inside to go inside
living inside the chrysalis
A single strand of RNA has come to peel the world away from itself. An unseen entity stealthily moves among us—or, rather, our movement amongst one another spreads this unseen and skulking agent. Does it weird you out how a parasitic microscopic organism has basically shut down the entire world? Suddenly what felt so vital now seems inconsequential, and what seemed inconsequential now feels essential. Those with nothing left to lose feel like every moment has led to now. Those with everything to lose will watch their material existence bleed away and will discover themselves once the veil of materialism and external validation has fallen away. Those whose existence consists of tolerating uncertainty, discomfort, and loss have practised transformation—we have had to make lemonade so many times from the lemons which life gave us that we know the recipe by heart and soul. And yet, these strange times challenge us with the unorthodox limitations they force our leaders to impose upon us.
Lockdown means forced choicelessness, reducing consumption and use, and doing without things that formed a vital part of our existence. Even for those of us with small lives steeped in uncertainty and discomfort associated with a disability, a chronic illness, or the trauma of poverty, lockdown means making sacrifices. Nothing about this feels normal for any one of us. Desmond Tutu once said that you don’t know freedom if you have never gone without it. Covid-19 has taught us freedom by taking it from us. This time of lockdown and restriction and measured consumption and immediate existential threat have thrust a foreign culture upon the new world. We are like the younger folk in Game of Thrones whose entire lives had unfolded in summer and who could not begin to imagine the changes winter would bring. We find ourselves outraged that we have temporarily lost our previously for-granted right to shop at the local fully-stocked grocery, to gather with our friends in the park or beach, to have play dates amongst our children.
The first time I walked through an empty-shelved Safeway after the initial panic descended, I reminded myself this is how people lived behind the iron curtain. Only they had to line up around the clock and their shortages were not a distribution supply chain issue and a human limitation issue that would be steadily rectified. Normal everyday life behind the iron curtain meant routinely going without just like this. Much of life consisted of expending energy to acquire necessities, existing in an energy deficit state—perpetual depletion.
Think about the fact that we live in an era of unprecedented displacement of human beings, and remember refugees and migrants have nowhere to social distance or self isolate. In Gaza, Palestinians live their lives in an open air prison created by the Israeli apartheid regime. Essentially Palestinians live a life of lockdown, I think to myself as I isolate in my apartment as much as reasonably possible. In fact, one needn’t go so far as Western Asia or Eastern Europe or anywhere further than their own locale to find people whose lives resemble quarantined lockdown. Indeed, the poor and homeless here in the new world live a similar existence to refugees, and their struggle to acquire necessities consumes their existence. In fact, let’s call the tent city erected in Oppenheimer Park by it’s true name—a refugee camp.
Human beings cause the displacement of human beings. We are greedy, selfish, hateful and violent. Covid-19 has shown us that the ways in which we have made ourselves powerful have become our weakness. We have become too bloated with individualism, self interest and self worship. We have forgotten the illusion of separation. We had actually begun to believe in our separateness. We have forgotten that we are one, from the same source—you are me and I am you. Any attempt I make to diminish, deprive, abuse or oppress you in reality is a grave offense I commit against myself. SARS-COV-2 doesn’t discriminate the way we do. The virus won’t simply target the marginalised and disadvantaged and leave the upper echelons of society intact. The virus won’t target the poor and skip over the wealthy, it won’t target Palestinians and skip over Israelis. The virus doesn’t check passports or tax records or bank balances. The virus doesn’t know who you are. The virus doesn’t care. Like a fire, it consumes all in it’s path. The virus decimates.
Similarly, when I hear of the tales of people losing loved ones to the SARS-COV-2 virus, [aka covid-19] and being unable to see them in their final hours and in some cases, unable to partake in a proper funeral ritual, I remember that immigrant life has made this a reality for many. I also remember that, 50 or a hundred years ago, humans left their families of origin to begin their own lives somewhere else and never again saw or communicated with them. I think about the many of us with an ancestry of slavery and colonial displacement and residential schooling. We were torn away from our families and societies by a viral force called humans wielding the Doctrine of Discovery. And again, present-day poor and homeless and elsewise displaced in the new world live in permanent physical isolation from their families; poverty and trauma are the most common forms of permanent quarantine.
Now that we are living in lockdown, I wonder, will we be able to extend our empathy? When you live your life taking comfort in knowing that anyone living is a mere text message away, or that your family will always live just down the road or a short bus ride away, you maybe find it hard to wrap your head around never again seeing or communicating with your loved ones. Yet, many live this reality and humans historically have lived this way. Do we only recognise our privilege when life has stripped it away from us? I wonder if these collective trials and hardships of covid-19 can enable human society in the new world to relinquish its exceptionalism, complacency and collective arrogance.
Can physical distance actually improve our social connection? What if lockdown forces us to go inside and what if this going inside is what will heal us as a collective society? What if the narrow individualistic world which we have carved out for ourselves, steeped in consumption, performance, external validation and worship of worldly material objects and their accumulation, has made us and our environment sick? What if the remedy requires us to retreat inwardly, and watch the veil of falseness and elitism and greed and apathy fall while we do nothing but sit with all the discomforts and anxieties and tensions which this contracted existence has sought to mask? What if the remedy requires us to reach out to one another in humility and vulnerability while we journey further inside? What if lockdown is a kind of sudden and uncertain wintering-in?
What if we can only make discoveries by being lost and by losing what we treasure? What if all the worldly desires that seem to light up the world actually darken and dampened the light? What if we have forgotten the incredible lightness of our own beings? Tom Waits sang God’s Away on Business, and I can’t help but wonder if covid-19 has come to babysit our sad sorry greedy self indulgent human asses. Some will swear at me and drag me for “diminishing suffering” or trying to find meaning where they think none exists. To those I want to say, the only thing which has helped me survive the immense suffering I have endured in my own life is to seek meaning and opportunity. All this suffering and anguish seems like a massive waste of energy expenditure if it was only all just random, existential, and empty. To me that seems like the most offensive diminishment of suffering.
I have no answers, only questions and observations. I think that’s the point, though. That none of us individually has the answer. That might does not give birth to true greatness. That questions can be answers. That true strength lies in vulnerability—stepping into weakness, fear, rage, suffering and embracing them with curiosity. That denial is weakness and not resilience, which can only come from humility. What do humans serve? We’ve build up a world in which humans serve the economy—this is the principle underlying the American regime currently telling millions of elderly and disabled and chronically ill that they must serve the economic machine by dying. Which brings me to a realisation of a very sad reality: the difference between Canada and the United States lies in the fact that, in Canada, the economy serves humans, and in the USA, humans serve the economy. And I can’t help but feel very surreal at the notion that a Christian nation about to celebrate Easter, the holiest time of the year which marks the death and resurrection of Jesus to save the world from sin and evil, has just asked millions of its vulnerable citizens to die in order to save its society from the evils of covid-19, the manifestation of sin and pestilence in the eyes of the so-called pro life Christian regime. The leader of the free world has decided to play a game of chess with its people. When did America forget that humans are a society’s greatest resource, and that, without them, greatness means nothing?
I have one more question. Donald Trump vowed he would Make America Great Again. Is American Great Again yet?