The Novel Side of Chaos

April 2020

The rain patting down onto the ivy outside is applauding all of our efforts today.

It is hard to grasp the significance of the time you are living while you are there. There are those events heavy in the timeline you learn growing up. Moments that should anchor you. That will matter enough to be learnt about when you are gone as they pass you by; when Britain voted to leave the EU, when Obama was sworn in as President, when we watched the twin towers crumble across the world.

In a time of emergency, protocols and rule books are torn up. People are scared. They fend for themselves, closing their doors around better judgements and sympathies. Today, the collective lies on a knife edge-. Only heroism and the greater good will keep people together and convince them to risk it all to help each other.

I remember reading a book as a kid about a young girl who worked in an apothecary shop in London while plague ridden bodies piled up in the streets. The heroine wore sliced oranges around her neck to protect herself from the virus. Imagining that novel terror with a childish wonder, I craved the adventure. To feel in the middle of something exciting and dangerous and to be heroic in the face of it. As if the struggle to survive would make life feel more meaningful.

They were the only books I would ever finish. Diaries of people living against some unsurmountable fear. Anne Frank started my love of reading. What would the young girl learning to read, diving her imagination into such peril, think of the woman she grew up to be?

She would think I was wasting the adventure.

We are living in the novel side of chaos. The world has been turning differently here for almost a month. People rebel peacefully, meeting in groups in the shadowy side of parks. Hiding picnics away from patrols. How long before this summer of surreal discontent and peace runs out? Who will lash out first? An extreme action on either side has the potential to ignite the fallen leaves of our everyday.

The depressive part of me is a cowardly adult – addicted to bad habits, an unhealthy lifestyle, and the status quo. She wants to drink with her friends, fuck and forget what is happening. When I was a kid, I loved the melodrama. Play was always set-in wartime, inspired by the power in Anne’s words as she hid from German soldiers in the attic, and the picture of my Grandma in her Women’s Air Force uniform on the mantel.

I feel lost where as a child, I was not. That little girl knew what she liked, who she was and what she wanted. Funny how the world presses that out of you till you are shiny and smooth like everyone else. Washed over by time, the judgement of others and the traumas that wear us away.

When I read about heroines as that little girl, they inspired me. Now in my own moment of historic difficulty, it is she who inspires me most. The little girl who faced the thought of such terrors with fearless conviction.

In isolation we depend on information more than ever. Headline snapshots signal how our world outside is changing. But news, like justice, is owned.

The truth of the outside now more than ever is filtered through media platforms. While we wait inside these platforms inform us of the danger and we are vulnerable to manipulation from all sides. We know what we are told. We do what we are told. We are scared and so we police each other. Handing over extra powers to our governments, distracted, without a timeline or notion of how long this will last. The longer we are isolated and disconnected, the harder it is to imagine the frayed threads of society returning to the pattern we recognise.

Life is full of history. Some pulls you back, afraid to look forward, pinning you to the present. In this moment things are changing.

Our world is faced with a threat like plagues before, but never in a time quite like ours. People are dying in a way we are not used to. The numbers rising every day. People are scared and it feels like it is always getting closer and closer to home.

Before, in crowds singing along together, there was a worry at the back of our minds that violence could come from one of us. That a catastrophe could disturb that joyful moment with a bang and ripple of chaos.

How will we go back to enjoying that moment in the crowd when we have learnt to be suspicious of every-body. Each suspect without intentions or malice to reason with.

How long will it take to rebuild trust in each other? Or perhaps like the threats we have grappled with before, we will lock the fear away. Walking in the present with the same blitz spirit of our grandparents. To keep calm and carry on so we can live the life we have. Standing firm even though the everyday has never felt more fragile.

Now more than ever, how we look after the vulnerable people in our society is at stake. And where we go from here will define who we are.

While disconnected, we came together in wild applause to the NHS and key workers safeguarding survival of these days. A sound that resonated across roof tops and reminded us we were not alone. In sacrificing so much, we show the vulnerable in our lives their safety is worth more than the everyday freedoms we go without. But we are tired, and this fear and desperation make us vulnerable to turn on each other. Looking for an easy way out or someone to blame. If we leave people behind now, we will lose ourselves. Protecting the vulnerable is the only way we can preserve hope of a future defined by equality, respect, and access to shared opportunities for all of us.

Social distancing itself is a privilege that requires safe walls and a roof to stay inside. While we hunker down to control the number of cases, we sacrifice those who keep the cogs of our society going. Those nurses, doctors and carers keeping us safe. The supermarket workers keeping us fed. The refuse workers who ensure this COVID nightmare plays out as a drama on TV, rather than streets turned to barren wastelands. Some of us forced to sacrifice safety every day to pay rent and put food on the table. Then there are those without homes to stay in, who have been temporarily housed to control the virus, highlighting the choices behind keeping them on the streets in the first place.

The impact of this virus is different depending on who you are and the privileges you enjoy. It plays out on a stage built on inequalities, so to claim we are all in this together ignores the injustices that have plagued society long before coronavirus. To keep family safe by staying at home has become the ultimate sacrifice and privilege.

A rumbling silence.

Civilisation built on Speed, Access, Crowds, Entrances, Exits, Escalators.


London Apple Tree in Bloom, April 2019

Published by sincerelyeukarya

Writing from London. Photographs from the author's adventures. Icon image is by an unknown graffiti artist in Havanna, Cuba; the disordered numbers ask you to question what you have been told.

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