We have been in #lockdown for over a week now and so many emotions have come and gone. At first, I had a strange novel feeling about our isolation at home. It is an experience I have never had before. With lots of time on my hands and with no major obligations or expectations of any kind, I sensed a freedom that is hard to describe. It was as if something had let me off the hook and that I now had the freedom to do what pleased me. That mood soon turned into a spurt of incredible productivity and an eagerness to tackle a mountain of backlogged chores. That level of efficiency lasted for the next few days and indeed, I did get a lot done. But my demeanour has since changed and I am now finding myself in a quiet, pensive, subdued state. I often catch myself peering out the window immersed in long brooding daydreams, my thoughts meandering through a multitude of situations of what is presently happening to the world because of the #coronavirus #pandemic.
A pair of house sparrows are in the throes of rearing a few chicks in their nest in the eaves outside my window. It is unseasonably late for them to succeed in getting their babies to fledge but I watch those parents flitting back and forth diligently doing whatever they can. They too may be in a crisis all their own. They may sense, while not being able to reason, that their task is futile yet they brave the chilly rain to forage for food as the temperatures in Johannesburg plummet, heralding the approach of winter. What struck me as I watched these busy little birds was that while they have their own difficulties to contend with, they have no awareness whatsoever of the disruption #coronavirus is having on human life. These little sparrows, the trees in the garden and the rich diversity of creatures big and small beyond our fences are blissfully unaware of our #stayathome orders and the suffering we humans are experiencing across the globe.
This #coronavirus #pandemic is not at all nature’s issue – it is fairly and squarely ours and ours alone.
Somewhere in our evolutionary past, we were once as naïvely uninformed about global events as nature is of this #pandemic because those events happened too far away from us for us to know about them. There were even times much deeper in our evolutionary past when we, like nature today, had no cognitive ability to understand what was happening to us and around us, even if it unfolded under our very noses. Back then, we instinctively reacted to challenges and opportunities as these little sparrows are doing today. In the eons of time before our brains developed the ability to reason, to be cognitive of ourselves and to grasp the functioning of the world in which we live, nature uncannily kept herself in perfect balance. When one species flourished so did its predators until nature pruned herself back and restored her equilibrium once more. Nature powers herself through natural selection. As prey adapts to predator, both make incremental biological advances to preserve their respective species thereby bringing about a sophisticated, intricately interconnected and rich diversity on this planet. Whenever a species becomes too specialised and unable to adapt to its environment, it goes extinct.
Our pre-hominid ancestors of bygone eras who lived in perfect harmony with Mother Nature might be what Genesis alludes to in metaphor as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The evolutionary acquisition of powers of reason might be akin to us having eaten from the fruit of the Tree of Good and Evil, another metaphor that could speak about our newfound capacity to judge, reason and think strategically. Why else would the Bible name this tree as the Tree of Good and Evil? The dual concept of right versus wrong is meaningless in a brain without cognitive ability and rational thought. There in those primitive brains everything is one. Lizards, fishes, the sparrows nesting in my eaves sense their world and either react opportunistically to what they feel or shy away from it if it threatens them. Could it be that through the evolution of the human brain and its amazing ability to reason, we, as represented by Adam and Eve in this ancient tale, perceived our ‘nakedness’ and slowly awoke to our sense of self, grasping to the notion that we were different and separate from all other species? Might it not be the evolutionary acquisition of a prefrontal cortex that ousted us from that blissful, metaphoric paradise in which all nature coexisted in perfect harmony? Once we became self-aware and could reason, there was no going back. We could not undo what evolution had given us. If my conjecture has any remote ring of truth in it, this ancient story is then not one of hopelessness and suffering alone. To the contrary, these texts also speak of an Armageddon, an apocalyptic global meltdown with unparalleled suffering and destruction, from which a new state of oneness, balance and harmony emerges – symbolised as a paradise regained.
We know better than to take our ancestral stories literally and at face-value. Just as the story of the Ugly Duckling does not speak of real farmyard animals but alludes to the way many of us do not fit into society because of skin colour, sexual orientation, ancestral background or religious beliefs, the fable shows us in metaphoric ways how difficult it is to be different and to have the world reject one. The story speaks of the difficulties coping as a social outcast and outlier. Yet the tale of the ugly duckling also gives us hope that we may hear that familiar call of swans flying overhead and heed our inner call to connect and become part of our own special group of people where we belong. The tale reassures us that we can find identity, place and solace in the safety of our kith of kin.
If we are meant to read deeper meaning into fables such as that of the ugly duckling, then should we not also seek deeper meaning in other metaphoric texts too? I am deeply suspicious of literal, blind brick and mortar acceptance of such writings. I have an instinctual trust that these metaphors speak of human progression in other more deeply profound ways.
What is blatantly obvious is our progressive mismanagement and contempt for this planet and of all other species living on it. Our Mother, Earth, is still uncompromisingly generous to us – yet with a mindset of obsessive, self-centred greed, we rape her. Not just once but again and again to the point where we have lost our conscience for that which we are doing and with addictive, narcissistic, unfettered arrogance believe that She should continuously submit Herself, laying back, opening Her legs and in silent surrender, giving us access to the sacred space from which we were born so that we can take all that we depravedly crave.
I for one, do not want to be part of this testosterone-filled, insatiable lust!
This crisis will pass. They always do, one way or another and life will return to normal. But, what kind of normal are we expecting it to return to? Many of us realise that this is a major pivotal point in human history. You and I have the collective ability to press our world leaders for change. We must define the parameters and scope of our new normal otherwise nature will do it for us. Do you have the will and courage and are you man enough to protest rape? If so, are you ready to stand as an activist against the rape of our Mother?
If you agree with me, please share this widely – and by the way, I couldn’t give a damn about how many fickle likes this essay may receive.