March 22, 2020

A walk in the spring sunshine. These days, I walk alone. The speed of change continues to astound me. Just two days ago, while keeping my promised six- foot distance, I was nonetheless privileged to join my daughter and my grandchild at the local park. I smiled to watch the little one swing high up into the sky, and do chin-ups on an overhead bar. Today, yellow tape surrounds the equipment, and a frightening silence has replaced the shouts of happy children. The simplest of things, a walk in the park with a grandchild has suddenly become a privilege, a moment frozen in time, a moment that may- or may not re-cur. Most definitely, a luxury to be cherished.

Maybe this means that it’s time all children learned to do simpler things, like climb a tree. Maybe this means that we all need to learn simpler things, like how to reach out to one another. How to be less busy, less pre-occupied with trivia. Maybe, in some strange fashion that we don’t begin to understand, the universe is telling us to stop and re-consider. Just what needs to be re-considered is not yet clear. It may be weeks or months yet before anything becomes clear, aside from the fact that things cannot go on as they did before. Something is amiss. Something has gone awry, and each of us is being invited to go within and re-assess who and what matters to us personally. I believe that we must also re-assess broader issues. Issues to which there are no easy answers. Issues that will change our world. Somehow, it already feels that there will be no going back to life the way it used to be.

A friend writes “I must say that I’m finding the social isolation difficult. I tend to go catastrophic when left to my own devices.”  I’m not sure what is encompassed by the word “catastrophic,” but I suspect that she is far from alone in finding the social isolation difficult. My email messages today contain a flood of suggestions for videos and U-tube postings, for virtual concerts, lectures and much else. It’s as if people cannot be alone with their thoughts, cannot sit quietly or walk alone in the great outdoors without some form of distraction. I remain astounded to see countless people walking with cellphone in hand, walking and watching, or walking and talking. Many are sporting both a phone and earphones, as if to ensure that their mind will never be free of a stream of influences.

What is this frantic craving for distraction? Previously, I caught glimpses of this craving by those who attended my workshops on retirement. Mostly professionals who feared that they would somehow vanish when no longer conducting business as usual. “Who will I be when I’m no longer doctor, nurse, social worker, professor, accountant? I’ve always perceived myself as someone useful to others, and I’ve no desire to take up golf or some other time-killer.”  Like my friend who goes catastrophic, people seem to fear their own thoughts.  Some people even take sleeping tablets to ensure that they will drop off quickly and not have to deal with their thoughts in the deep silence of the night. What are these thoughts from which so many seek to run?

We are blessed to live in a time of technological wonders that allow us to stay in touch with our immediate family, our friends, and with all other humans. Today’s technology means that we are never really alone with our thoughts.  Even in so-called isolation, people are “watching” whatever and feeling connected to others. Some even think of their favourite film star or sports hero or TV commentator as part of their extended world. My email has been flooded with a stream of suggestions from well-meaning friends, suggestions for ways to distract myself.  What is this need to not think, to not reflect upon what is happening, both here at home and all over the world?

Some send jokes, some send precautionary updates, but most send items that require at length watching of an individual or a program. Most are sending something that requires me to sit passively and watch. It does not invite me to act in any way. Its only goal is to keep me entertained, distracted from whatever I might otherwise be doing or thinking.