At some point in life, everyone faces moments which knock them off modern life’s relentless treadmill. From the 6am email which pings at the bedside through to angrily tweeting at the TV during Newsnight: the art of modernity is distraction.
Eat, tweet, achieve, repeat. Always running, always busy, there is little time to stop or think until we hit a bump in the road which shakes our world.
For our family, that moment was when my wonderful dad died in 2017. He was a 57-year old marathon runner out on a gentle jog in Dorset. A minor artery clog meant that, while his life finished doing the thing he loved most, our family were brutally forced to confront death – the last great taboo. It can be lonely because everyone else’s world keeps spinning. But crises expose what can be truly relied on.
Covid-19 is unique because we are sharing a crisis moment together. The jarring experience of the coronavirus slowdown and reflection, normally reserved for individual personal tragedies or life’s landmark moments, is a collective experience. Businesses are closing, people are isolating, the beating drum of modern life is slowing and fear about public health raises questions about human mortality which have resonated through epidemics across the ages.
Netflix’s profits are soaring as scores seek new means of diversion. But we cannot distract ourselves for ever. The eerie slowdown forces us to confront the nagging question: is this it?
The Disneyfication of our world views says we define our own meaning. “You are who you say you are,” ”Be who you want to be”. Nice slogans when everything is going well, but little comfort when a family member has a sudden heart attack, or your business collapses.
Are we just distracting ourselves? Sleep, tweet, achieve, repeat – the modern treadmill offers little solace when faced with a public health crisis and the inevitability of human mortality.
These crisis moments invite us to consider the deeper things of life. Polling shows that a quarter of adults in the UK have watched or listened to a religious service since the coronavirus lockdown began, and one in 20 have started praying during the crisis.
For our family, it was the moral code, community commitments, and eternal hope offered by our nation’s Christian heritage that were our lifeline when Dad’s passing left us reeling.
It is hard to explain, but for us, in our personal crisis and grief, it was knowing the love and compassion of God which brought us through. Instead of staring at the universe and seeing blind, pitiless indifference,
Christianity says that beauty, truth and love are existential realities. It says that whatever happens with Covid-19, there is hope. It says that I will see my Dad again one day.
Whatever your belief system, the coronavirus slowdown forces us to collectively confront the deeper questions that are so easily shelved in the daily hustle and bustle. Epidemics through the ages have catalysed soul-searching. Covid-19 is no different.
Johnny Patterson is a human rights activist and writer
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