Reflecting on big questions
Brandon Sun, April 6, 2020 - David McConkey
Living during a global
pandemic raises big questions. Here are six that I am paying
attention to right now.
Why not start by celebrating the jokes and memes being shared among friends, colleagues and loved ones? They remind us of the importance of laughter, perspective and connection.
I would like to say “thanks” for the wonderful chalk writing on the Pacific Avenue walking path. What a joy to serendipitously encounter these pandemic-ready nuggets: “Spread kindness” and “Smile, it's contagious.” And this timely gem: “And the world came together as the people stayed apart.”
We are in an existential crisis. In retrospect, humanity should have been better prepared. I have previously quoted the three existential challenges identified by historian Yuval Harari: climate change, nuclear war and technological disruption – especially artificial intelligence and biotechnology. Revisiting his list now, it might have included a global pandemic.
But we have to keep looking ahead. And that means keeping in mind existential challenges. What we learn about our response to the current crisis will be valuable in preparing to deal with future ones: whether pandemic, climate change or something else; whether in six months, six years or sixty years.
The world is changing right in front of us; things will never be the same again. Some trends already underway seem sure to accelerate, like doing more online and at home. Sadly, everywhere, some local institutions – from restaurants and stores to book clubs and coffee klatches – that are closed “temporarily” will never re-open.
Harder to foresee are other changes, which will include dimensions that are economic, technological and cultural. Disruptions spur innovation, often in unexpected ways. We can also anticipate a new sense of citizenship, both in our local community and in our global community.
We are asked during the pandemic to be more aware and considerate: to wash our hands for 20 seconds, to refrain from touching our faces, to cough into our arms, to maintain physical distancing. Everyday mindfulness has never played such a big role!
We can deepen our mindfulness through practices like meditation. I see meditation becoming more popular; it can be done easily at home, physical distancing is built right in.
Meditation can be useful in anxious times. A meditation practice offers the possibility of helping us to embrace our anxiety, incorporate a needed sense of urgency, and then let go of the negative emotion and carry on with more equanimity.
THE MEANING OF LIFE?
The pandemic puts our existence – our life and death – at the centre of our attention. We are related to all life on Earth, probably evolving from just one common ancestor. As American author Robert Wright expresses it, our creator is natural selection.
“From so simple a beginning,” Charles Darwin wrote, “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” Darwin described the engine of evolution: natural selection by random mutation and the “universal struggle for life.” We now find ourselves locked in this struggle with another evolving life form, which we have named the COVID-19 virus.
What is the meaning of life? Instead of trying to answer that question, I like to consider this: we are here now, in an immense universe, the result of billions of years of evolution. We contemplate our world with its life “most beautiful and most wonderful” – all caught up in the “universal struggle.” And right here, right now? Well, we have the present moment that we can choose to live – consciously, ethically, fully.
LIFE GOES ON
Fortunately, the coronavirus seems not to affect children as much, but youngsters can be carriers of the disease. This has led to changes in family contact. For many grandmas and grandpas, their grandkids won’t be visiting, out of fear of putting older folks in danger. Everyone over 60 is now seen as vulnerable.
I am in that over-60 group; for us, our world has shifted. Our children are now – if they weren’t already – the “sandwich” generation: watching out both for their kids and for us – their parents. We oldsters are not only suddenly feeling a lot more frail, but also worried that we might not see our grandchildren again. Amid a wave of sadness, many of us are comforted as we observe our children – the next generation – calmly, resolutely take charge in these difficult times.
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