Editorial: Where is the Life That I Recognize?

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This is not my first pandemic. It is somewhat surreal to write that, let alone come to terms with it. There was H3N2 Influenza A. I don’t remember it well, but I was critically ill with pneumonia. Then, as Storm Faerywolf described yesterday, there was HIV, a pandemic that is still raging. I lost my first husband to it and half of my friends. More recently, there was novel H1N1 Influenza A in 2009 – more recent in memory and yet, comparatively, distant and mild.

A coronavirus model [Felipe Esquivel Reed, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons]

In this outbreak, like each one before, we are left feeling unmoored under dark skies with no sight of land or help. This time seems worse, until I think back to the 80s. HIV was a preview of what we see now: not so much the fear of death, but rather the real and unmistakable collapse of many social systems that we came to expect.

Many of us have very real financial fears.

Many of us are being stretched thin.

Some of us are forced to stay at home, hungry, scared, or even with an abuser.

All of us are living a life that is alien. Our lived experience is unrecognizable.

At the same time, we hear stories about canals in Venice clearing up, with fish, swans, and even dolphins returning. Ducks in Italian fountains and wild boar in small towns. Native deer are roaming Spanish streets. We see how pollution over China and then Italy has cleared. Fortunately, the stories about clearing pollution, both in the skies and in the waters of Venice, are true. The others are a mix. The dolphins, for example, were filmed in Sardinia.

It’s true, nevertheless, that the novel coronavirus has created a worldwide crisis, has halted our lives and changed their balance. But the changing balance should not excuse the disturbing and growing trend of rhetoric justifying COVID-19 as a blessing. For some loud voices in Pagan social media and blogging landscape, there has been a celebratory interpretation of the novel coronavirus as that of Earth fighting back against humans.

The lack of self-awareness to privilege within such interpretations is disappointing. Those claiming some wartime volley between humans and the Earth are hoping to create a narrative about the pandemic that fits their own needs and serves their own economic interests. They use their digital and economic privilege to invalidate the painful experiences of others, especially those less able. Such comments are ignorant and sad.

We’re all rooting for the healing of the natural world, but there is a vast difference between celebrating balance and celebrating suffering. The latter is a shameful stance. More importantly, perhaps, the violent interpretation of the Earth attacking humanity misunderstands a simple truth: our mother doesn’t want us dead, though she probably wants us to pay more attention.

This is true whether the Earth manifests as nurturing or indifferent. If the Earth were vengeful, I’m confident to say, we would never have gotten to this point.

The famous “Blue Marble” photograph, captured by the crew of Apollo 17 [public domain]

We are far too early in this pandemic to understand all the social and spiritual lessons that might be learned. As I have written before, when crises occur, they expose weaknesses in our societal structures, and we are seeing that now. This disease devastates systems.

We are seeing weakness in our political systems and leaders, in our economic systems, and in our social welfare systems.

The most serious weakness exposed so far is the shredding of our social fabric by the most menial of things, like toilet paper. The need to consume has become a collective defense against the unknown. Buying stuff provides emotional relief. It is a remarkable testament to our faith in money over our faith in one another.

We know where the virus came from, we know its name, the name of the disease it causes and the biochemistry by which it spreads, but its damage is amplified by selfishness and fueled by inequality.

Together, selfishness and inequality bring fear, anger, and helplessness, and ultimately,  it turns us against ourselves. Selfishness drives the need to hoard. It drives the need to compete. And it even drives the need to be dishonest.

Together, selfishness and inequality cause desperation for food and desperation for medicine. They lead others to fake cures. They make us crave platitudes and pledges of allegiance over hope and science. They bring anomie, that is, the breakdown of our usual standards of behavior toward one another.

Again, our mother doesn’t want us dead and she doesn’t want us powerless either. She wants us safe and thriving – and there might just be a lesson there. This time, our safety relies on one another, not in blind deference to leadership, not in money, and not in hoarding. Our safety lies in community.

Those who are at risk of serious complications from COVID-19 are relying on the rest us who aren’t at risk to stave off the disease.

Those who heal our sick are relying on us to stem the tide of this disease so it does not overwhelm our healthcare system.

Those who need food, diapers, or hand cleansers are relying on the rest of us to take only what we need, rather than using our wealth to hoard them from the poor.

Italy and then Spain have found that path in strengthening community despite isolation, but we in the USA don’t seem to be listening. Too many of us refuse to give up our privileges – we want to go to the beach, go camping, or go out for a drink. We refuse to sacrifice even the smallest detail for the sake of community. It’s left me angry, and at times even hopeless, about how we will defeat this virus.

But we – the world community –  will defeat the virus. That’s why this isn’t a war. This is another aspect of the continuing revelation of being human and being part of the Earth.

In my tradition, we are asked to find or write a quote that we can return to in times of need. Decades ago, I was tempted to choose Herbert’s Litany against Fear. But I didn’t.

For one reason or another that I can no longer remember, I chose the quote in Goya’s famous eponymous print: El sueño de la razón produce monstruos (“The sleep of reason produces monsters”).

I’ve returned to Goya’s famous quote many times the past few weeks. It has helped me overcome fear and anger, just as we will overcome the pandemic. In time, we will witness the human community in balance with nature. It will be a hard road, no doubt, and one with challenges we still don’t fully understand. But that balance will come, and it will come without nihilism.

If the Earth is teaching us a lesson, it is that we belong to each other as much as we belong to her.

Editor’s note: The Wild Hunt continues to cover the impact of COVID-19 on the Pagan community. For the latest updates, see our special coverage page. The Centers for Disease Control maintain a current list of guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19 here.

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