Talking to friends and family on the phone (and neighbors outside—at a distance), I hear the same refrain: These are awful times.
Of course we state the obvious with these four words, but there are two things to consider: These could be worse times, one. And there are silver linings even in the worst of times, two.
Let’s start with the first. As any reader of dystopian fiction can tell you, a pandemic could be much worse than what we are presently experiencing. While Covid-19 kills at a much higher rate than the usual flu viruses (Types A & B) that infect people each winter, imagine where we’d be if the coronavirus were more lethal still.
In Emily St. John Mandel’s novel, Station Eleven, for instance, 99% of the world population is wiped out in short order by a virus. Before we leave that sobering number, consider how ill-prepared we were for the present pandemic. Will nations of the world learn their lessons once a vaccine is found for Covid-19 and be better prepared for the next crisis, or will they slip back into complacency and cut programs designed to stockpile and ready ourselves for something even worse?
Now that I’ve depressed you (I fear we each had the same answer to that question, given the “leadership” we’ve seen in the present pandemic), let’s move to the silver lining.
One of the eeriest memories I have from 9/11 is the empty skies. I looked up and it was nothing but God’s blue. No silver specks slowly moving across the celestial vault. No contrails stitching sky. No distant drones of airplane engines.
These past few weeks, I’ve noticed something similar but much less eerie. I go out on long walks and our street, typically semi-busy, is all but empty. Completely empty, if you go out between 6 and 8 a.m.
The dog and I walk the middle of the road like it’s a wide pedestrian path. Instead of the sound of tires on tar, the sounds of nature are magnified. The cardinals, nuthatches, and flickers. The chickadees. Ducks from the pond. A red squirrel chittering. Spring peepers from the bog.
The lack of competition from man-made sound has gifted us with the sounds of nature our forebears once enjoyed, sounds with no competition from human invention. The quiet, even interrupted by the tapping of a Pileated Woodpecker, seems so…gentle. And lovely, too.
Maybe it’s not much, but in awful times like these, we have to reach for “not much” and cherish it. Humans hunkered down means nature unleashed, as if our surroundings have, overnight, become game preserves and nature conservancies, all magnified by the rites of spring.
That’s right. Spring. A budding branch of normalcy populated with “life is as it should be” actors who go about their usual rituals.
Take it, I say. It’s good for the soul and nourishes the body. Silver linings like that shouldn’t be passed up.