It may go against our initial reaction, but if it illuminates a greater understanding and appreciation of life and it’s inter-relatedness, we are blessed to live in the time of Covid-19. Not since before to the advent of modern medicine and most notably antibiotics, has serious illness and death been so relevant to the way we live our daily lives. Stories of mass death due to plagues and other pestilence, in what to us seems like the distant past, are well documented. More recently there have been periods where death has been a greater part of our awareness, WW II comes to mind, but in that war few in the civilian population of the United States had to worry that their “number” might be called. Now the lethal enemy could be lurking in the smiling face of someone just a few feet away and so we find a kinship with those in our more distant past.
One can only guess how most folks dealt with outbreaks of cholera before there was any idea of how it came to be or spread. Certainly fear, and the hope that through prayer to god one would be spared, was a big part of it. But then what? Suppose you were blessed with another day? How did you experience it? My guess, and I’m sure that of most, is that there was a heightened value placed on each day, if one was not grieving the death of a loved one.
I have reached the age where cherishing each day is no longer just an intellectual concept but one that is experienced. Still, events of the last few weeks have heightened that awareness.
During this time, walks in nature have been an escape but have also served as a reminder of what it has to teach. Learning about the natural world, and appreciating all that comprises it, has been a passion for a number of years. As a result, like any passion, whether one is a painter, gourmet cook, or restores antique cars, while so engaged, one can be totally in the moment and for a time all else is forgotten.
However, this passion for, and love of, the natural world not only has provided times of escape from many of life’s cares but has evoked an awareness of being part of something greater. This goes against our usual mindset, undoubtedly fostered in part by the sheer number of humans on the planet, that we are exceptional, and are somehow above and separate from other living things. But a virus doesn’t know whether it is invading the body of a human or a frog. In either case, the results can vary from just an annoying illness to one that is fatal. Bacterial infections, although often treatable by modern antibiotics, may have the same range of outcomes. But viruses and bacteria are nature and are essential to life as we know it, and often death.
A walk in the woods is a reminder that living things are constantly being born and dying and that to our eye the beauty of autumn color is often as captivating as a spring wildflower attracting pollinators, birth and death. Nothing lasts and any illusion we have of permanency is just that. So Covid-19 has come knocking at our door with an unrelenting song of illness and death and with it the fear that even though we may not have many of the of the high risk criteria no one can be too sure. A new normal at least for a time. We have reluctantly become part of the humanity of history, of the black plague, and of the polio vaccine. We share their fear and joy.
A quiet walk on a wooded path challenges one to be alive now as fungi is seen thriving on a dying tree while a bluebird, with captured insect, flies to it’s nest bringing food for it’s young. It challenges us to hold all life as sacred informed by the humble realization that until the very recent past we were but a small part. In our ephemeral moment the call to us all is to be relevant to the needs our world, to those around us, and to all living things, to reach out in love.