As I write this letter, we are in the third national lockdown, and England’s Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty, has announced that we are within the most serious phase of this pandemic in the UK. Coronavirus has dominated the news, and what we hoped we would experience as a brighter New Year as we left 2020 behind us, is yet to come.
Several years ago, when we were visiting Kerala in South India, we stayed at the home of Arundhati Roy’s aunt, in the area where her book, ‘The God of Small Things’, was located. We read more of her writings and listened to her speaking at an online conference. A Christmas card from a friend this year contained the following quote from her recent book in April 2020: “Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality”, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality. Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world, and ready to fight for it”. (Arundhati Roy: 2020: https://www.haymarketbooks.org/blogs/130-arundhati-roythe-pandemic-is-a-portal)
It is encouraging to see the new centres for vaccinations opening up across the country, and the anticipation that most, if not all, adults will have been able to receive the vaccination by Autumn 2021. It is great to begin to think about planning holidays, to watch the dawn of Spring as the bulbs push through the earth and the buds on the trees beginning to emerge and to imagine life as we remember it again. But I think it is helpful to remind ourselves that this is our opportunity to ‘imagine our world anew’ and to ‘walk through [the gateway] lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world, and ready to fight for it’.
For Christmas, Isobel gave me Jonathan Sacks’ last book, where he asks; ‘Are we destined to live with ever more divisive politics…divided societies, growing inequalities and increasing loneliness, less public regard for truth and evermore determined efforts to ban and demonise the voices with which we disagree? Can we change?’ He believed that we can, by shifting our cultural outlook from ‘I’ to ‘we’. (Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times 2020:321)
We have an opportunity to work to create a better world for people and the planet and ensure that we leave the next generation a place where they can live peacefully, fairly and sustainably – and may God be our helper.
God bless, Bill