Like most of us, my plans for Life And Things got disrupted by the pandemic. Don’t worry – I’m not here to talk about it. I think the issues and recommendations and politics are being discussed enough elsewhere.
I’d like to just muse poetic about the world, as it is right now.
I realized on a camping trip years ago just how much noise humans generate, and how used to it we all are. I was uncomfortable with the overwhelming silence, punctured only by nature sounds. Lately I’ve had that same feeling. Human communities are messy and noisy and usually teeming with movement.
For me, the awe and anxiety and strangeness of the world is characterized by silence and stillness. The white noise of civilization has faded out to birdsong punctuated by passage of the occasional car. Usually crowded places are disquietingly empty. It’s strange to see empty parking lots in the middle of the day, tape on the floor of the grocery store, public places that we can’t avoid going to requiring people to queue up because they can’t allow too many people into an enclosed space at one time.
We’re reminded that human ecosystems are fragile. We are not as dominant as we believe.
We’re also seeing privilege playing out. For some people, this is not a time of stillness – it’s a time of harried movement. When we’re thinking about stillness, we need to also recall the many among us who cannot be still.
But because many of us are not essential and can stay put, there is more stillness than we are used to. Stillness during times we’re used to traffic and noise and bustling life. Stillness on a scale we’ve never felt before.
I live in Colorado, backing up to what Coloradans call “open space,” which means space that’s still wild and natural. Sometimes in the warmer months, when I have the windows open at night, I can hear coyotes off in the distance. When you grow up in a very developed area, you’re not used to nature intruding on your space. Moving to Colorado reminded me that we’re the intruders. The coyotes remind me, too.
And now, recent events have reminded us all that modernity and technology and development cannot and will not always protect us from the natural world that we’ve shoved aside or trampled over. That we are not always in control. That there are things that exist beyond our detection that can wreak havoc on the world we’ve created.
A lot of bad will come from this, but I think some good will, too. People are opening their eyes to the impact that human development truly has on the world, and how much the world changes when humans retreat from it, even for a few weeks. We are seeing very clearly the way in which human development impacts different groups of people disparately.
In the future, there is going to be a lot of need for action. We can’t all do everything, so perhaps we can use this time of external stillness – (I assume most of us are anything but still internally) – to consider what we can do when the stillness lifts. What we can impact. How we can change and evolve. Who we can amplify.
And, perhaps, where we can continue to be more still.