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Virus Without Borders: Chapter 94

 

Homo homini lupus est. 

© photo copoyright Yenka Honig 2022

 

And We Thought We Were Done

 

 

He that is to govern a whole Nation, must read in himselfe, not this, or that particular man; but Man-kind;"

 

 Thomas Hobbes, "Leviathan"

 

 

I was in the health store buying organically regeneratively cultivated food when a family breezed in—two parents, three kids, two of the kids in the shopping cart—all unmasked, when one of the kids started sneezing, coughing and spurting phlegm all over her siblings and into the air. Though no one said a word, the shoppers pulled away. It's a small store, so this was not easy. I retrieved another mask from my back pocket—I only had a surgical on--and moved to the end of the check-out line. What was there to say or do other than that? Not much, unfortunately, except to leave the store without my organically regeneratively cultivated food, all of which I hope will keep me and my husband fortified for the BA variants upcoming before we get our FIFTH SHOT sometime in the autumn.

 

Whether this sweet sputtering child had Covid or not is irrelevant as there is no way to know. And it's not her responsibility anyway to consider the safety of the public at large. And she may have tested negative and just had an ordinary cold. But what were the adults thinking? Why not keep the child in the car, at least, with one of them. Was this too logistically difficult, too ethically challenging? Are they too busy to pay attention to anyone other than themselves and their immediate family?

 

Rhetorical questions.

 

It's summer and several friends and family members are traveling. We want to enjoy ourselves, see each other, see the world as it flails and burns. But we also have to preserve and repair. In the most global sense, the pandemic is a wake-up call, a symptom of the larger environmental challenge and the breakdown in international peace and cooperation.

 

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Weather Map

Grass finding shelter in a tree. photo © copyright Carol Bergman 2022

 

WEATHER MAP

 

 I don't believe the sleepers in this house

Know where they are.

-Robert Frost

 

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth.

-Herman Hesse

 

 

Except for summers when I was a child, and later when I was raising a child, I always lived in a city, either a large city such as Boston, London or New York, or a small city, such as Berkeley when I studied at the University of California. I never imagined that a consoling mountain landscape could be a year-round home. But in the spring of 2018, we moved out of the city permanently to a mid-Hudson valley small town, west of the Hudson River.  Our apartment has three screened-in nearly always open windows looking out onto the Minnewaska Ridge. On any one day I might see a grazing deer, coyotes, a fox crossing my path, a black bear resting in a tree on the SUNY campus, rabbits, vultures, eagles and hawks, or groundhogs feasting in the apple orchard. The sensation of sharing an ecosystem is constant and profound. It deepened during lockdown and isolation as my commute to the city lessened and then ceased. I've had one trip in recent months to see the Basquiat show, my cousin, and some friends visiting from California, but I need a very good reason to navigate the crowded streets, and feel the pressure of concrete, metal, glass, foul air, and hustle, not to mention surges in Covid.

 

It's not that I've become a recluse, far from. I started writing occasional pieces for the local newspaper a few weeks ago which keeps me engaged with people, community, politics and life's seemingly constant exacerbations. But the solace of the landscape envelops me even as I work a story, write my blogs, edit books, or facilitate a Zoom writing workshop, and this makes deadline pressure not only bearable, but meaningless. 

 

If  I am so in sync with nature now, composting and recycling diligently, it's curious, my husband, says, that I check my weather app so frequently. Why do I do this, I wonder? Storms announce themselves in the sky, in the tumbling clouds, and in the moist or dry air on my skin. Seasons change, or retreat, or explode suddenly. The calendar on my desk or in my phone tell me where I am within a given year. And even if there are climate change surprises—droughts and floods, a fire, a tornado—I manage well, without fear, most of the time.

 

Every Sunday as Covid ripped the fabric of our lives, I walked and talked with my friend Helene. Both the walking and talking were grounding, an antidote to social isolation. And we've continued the practice more or less every Sunday since. We pass old stone houses, a farm, a field of hay, barns, burial grounds, a nature preserve, gardens, people walking their dogs, other walkers. We may stop to chat, widening the circle of connection, or not. As the walk proceeds, earth sky, flora, fauna, and human habitation feels in balance and we feel in balance. It's more than likely the illusion of proximity or wishful thinking; the Wallkill River is very polluted, algae bloom all summer. It's a reminder that repairing our degraded environment—even in this beautiful landscape—must be intentional and unrelenting into the next season, and beyond. 

 

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Imagine

My vet husband, Jim, and daughter, Chloe, on a  long ago arms are for hugging peace march in Central Park. photo ©copyright Carol Bergman

 

IMAGINE


Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace…

 

-John Lennon & Yoko Ono
Released 10/11/71         
                                                   

***
Dear Professor Freud,

 

Is there any way of delivering mankind from the menace of war?

 

It is common knowledge that, with the advance of modern science, this issue has come to mean a matter of life and death for civilization as we know it; nevertheless, for all the zeal displayed, every attempt at its solution has ended in a lamentable breakdown…

 
-Albert Einstein in a letter to Sigmund Freud, 30 July 1932
 

 

When the war in Ukraine began, I imagined myself on the frontlines, my family on the train to Poland. I imagined myself fighting, my family fleeing. Often, as a child, I asked my mother why she had fled the war zone, that soon became a genocide, and left her parents—my grandparents—behind, a child-centered question. The complexities of invasion from an imperialist power cannot be answered by one, afflicted refugee escaping bombardment and atrocity. I had no humility and said, bluntly, "I would have stayed and fought in the underground."


Many imaginings will surface in this blog post. I can't imagine, for example how my questioning made my mother feel, how it might have intensified her survivor's guilt and grief. I can't imagine how Peter Zalmayev, Director of the Eurasia Democracy Initiative, based in Kyiv, will feel when I talk to him on Thursday and ask the questions: Do you see an end to this war? Is there any way to make peace and stop the slaughter? Who is profiting—governments, arms dealers, both—from the arms pouring into Ukraine?


Is it fair to ask these questions of someone only recently surfaced from a bunker?


It isn't only the deflection of resources in a world still in the midst and/or recovering from a pandemic, it's the realization that the NATO alliance is on a war footing and has revved up its war economies; it's the sadness of the frailty of peace, the seeming impossibility of a peaceful world, the continuing futility of diplomacy. Consider Israel and Palestine, for starters. Consider the pushback of migrants, their flights from despotic, impoverished regimes while the rest of us worry about the price of gas and food and whether or not we'll be able to go on vacation this year.  


I am old enough now to remember peace marches, peace signs and John and Yoko's iconic song. It's a utopian lullaby, an incantation, embedded in my psyche. I hope it helps.

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