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Opinion & Analysis

Beating the boredom by Charles M Durante

As we enter the third week of lockdown, we may find that the walls of our homes are reflecting ‘the shades of the prison house’ and what started as an experiment in a new style of living, is beginning to pall.

This is the moment when we come to a realisation that we are in for a long haul and must readjust to our new conditions with renewed energy and commitment.

As the global news becomes unrelievedly tragic and depressing, with the death toll from the coronavirus rising and seeming almost unstoppable, we need to take heart from the very comprehensive and effective measures which our Government, on the advice of health experts, has put in place.

The corner stone of this advice is still ‘stay at home’, except in some very special circumstances.

Wandering our streets, coming into contact with others, ignoring social distancing are all sure ways of contracting the virus.

At times like these, it is tempting to draw on historical parallels to our pandemic.

These are events which have devastated whole communities, spread panic and terror, caused death on an unprecedented scale and left the human family bereft and disorientated. T

he siege of Stalingrad, Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, the Blitz, the bubonic plague, Spanish flu, all caused unimaginable havoc and suffering.

Admittedly, our pandemic, at the moment, pales into insignificance when compared with some of these events, but the point of the comparison is not to indulge in extravagant and dramatic exaggeration, but to hope that, like those who survived those cataclysmic events, we shall emerge with a different and more mature perspective on life.

Certainly, we shall have a more acute awareness of our common humanity.

We now appreciate, more than ever, our dependence on others, especially health workers, nurses and doctors, the young who have rallied to the call to help the elderly, the key workers who are keeping our society ticking.

I think some clever German theologian once said religion could be summed up as ‘the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man’. These days that brotherhood has never been so important and life-saving.

One unexpected offshoot of the pandemic, and one we should all fervently hope for, is the diluting of the scourge of nationalism-the political movements which still preach a gospel of racial and social exclusion, believing, erroneously, that ‘we can go it alone.’

One lesson we have all learnt is that we are in this together and that a philosophy of ‘enlightened self-interest’, an awareness that by helping others I am helping myself, is the only way to combat the spread of the deadly virus. I am, of course, quoting the words of the Secretary General of the United Nations.

Among the new words and phrases which the pandemic has thrown up, social distancing is one of the most attractive. However, we should bear in mind its corollary: social distancing should be accompanied by emotional proximity.

The further away we are from one another, the closer we must become sentimentally and spiritually. This is not just emotional twaddle, but essential for our psychological health and happiness.

A scientific study of the virus has suggested we gave the virus the wrong name (corona), hence its other label, Covid-19. The association of the virus with a crown-like appearance is due to the way it was perceived when seen through outdated microscopes.

It seems the virus resembles more a sea mine with its ominous spikes which explode upon contact. There is a hidden message here: don’t meddle with the virus; it could explode in your face.

So how do we fill up the time which still remains? Obviously, the choice of pastimes depends on the individual.

Talking to loved ones on WhatsApp, watching Netflix, playing some video game, reading are all ways of making the hours less burdensome. One particular occupation which is both instructive and pleasurable, is reading art catalogues. We usually glanced at these when we went to an exhibition, looked at the illustrations when we returned home, and then shelved them for another day.

That day is now upon us-reading the text will not only illuminate the illustrations, but serve as a way of recalling the visit to that special exhibition when you were entranced by a Piero della Francesca’s Baptism or Chagall’s portrait of his exuberant wife.

We all look at nature but how closely have we observed the whole panoply of trees, flowers, moon and stars? If we are lucky to have some glimpse of nature, however reduced, we should dwell on it with loving eyes and open mind.

This reminds me of a beautiful line in Milton’s ‘Lycidas,’ an elegy he wrote when a young friend drowned in the Irish Sea: the sanguine flower inscribed with woe. The line acquires a poignant resonance when we realise the ‘sanguine flower’ is the hyacinth, which bears markings on its petals which recall the cry of pain and despair, AI AI (‘alas, alas) in Greek.

The words echo the grief of the god Apollo when he realised he had inadvertently killed his beloved boy, Hyacinthus. I know this could all be dismissed as a poetic extravaganza, but how closely must the poet have looked at the flower to detect those beautiful markings! Maybe we should exercise a similar concentrated attention on nature.

As the weeks become months, we need to avoid developing a bunker mentality. We must keep our means of communication open and use them frequently. Our mental and emotional horizons should extend beyond the confines of our homes. If we don’t do this, the pandemic will become a pandemonium!

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