In 1983, 4,099 people died in motorcycle accidents in the U.S.A. In August of that same year two young guys left the streets of The Bronx, New York to head out across America for an adventure. They were on motorcycles. Three days into their trip they soberly looked on as a motorcycle was being hauled up from a crash where the rider and bike left the road in a near fatal accident that ended the voyage of another pair of motorcyclists setting out on their own adventure. A decision had to be made then and there and every other moment of the trip. Give into the fear? Turn and run from the unknown and head back to New York? The answer was a fantastic, life-changing voyage across the continent and back.
Danger, and facing it down, is something people unknowingly do on a daily basis. Many though, succumb to that feeling of uncertainty lurking in the background, so they never step off the path to explore. Instead they safely walk on the road laid out before them, always carefully looking both ways before crossing, never taking the chance of possibly beating the traffic by running quickly and feeling that rush of adrenaline coursing through their veins on the other side of a risk.
But life is risky. Even when staying on the path, thousands of unknown chances are taken daily. Simply driving a vehicle down the road at 60 miles per hour (100 kms per hour) with nothing but a painted line separating you from another car doing exactly the same speed in the opposite direction, sounds almost suicidal, but we don’t ever think about how dangerous and trusting that act truly is when we turn the ignition key and drive off. Actually, on average, 1.35 million people die in car accidents world-wide every year, so for so many people the simple act of driving a car ends up being the last action taken in their life. In 2019 there were more mass shootings in America than days in the year. Over 15,000 people died by guns in the U.S. that same year and over 29,000 were injured. In America alone, over 500 children a year wind up in the hospital from balloon related injuries. (Yes you read that correctly!) Close to a million Americans wind up visiting emergency rooms annually from lawn mower accidents alone, never mind falling from ladders, being crushed by furniture and burnt by light bulbs. The list is endless and the numbers of casualties are impressive. Did I mention breathing? Almost forgot about that one. Breathing polluted air kills an estimated 3.5 million people prematurely world-wide every year. That’s nearly 6% of global deaths, some countries suffer even higher percentages. Our world leaders can’t seem to come together to put a handle on that catastrophic statistic, but what can they do? What can they do to improve the quality of life for so many around the world? The current situation is showing us, quite a lot actually. Dare I say, even too much! Do you find all these statistics exhausting? If so have a nap, but be careful, 1.8 million people a year wind up in hospital from falling out of bed.
How many people died alone without their families by their side last year? How many babies were born as anxious grandparents remained locked up in their houses miles away not able to cook a meal for their exhausted children? How many birthdays, weddings, anniversary parties, school graduations were missed last year? These numbers I don’t know, but for 2020 the list will be long.
Life, like I said, is a risky business. If we don’t take risks though, life would seem to end, and we shouldn’t even feel safe snuggled up in our bed. I do not want to downplay what is happening in our world right now. People are dying, and the fear surrounding it is quite strong, but we may need to face down some of those fears, because the human crisis we face can be just as devastating in the long term.
If all things were normal, not many people would willingly give up their right to drive, have balloons at parties, mow the lawn, go to the movies etc… Should I have never gone across America on my motorcycle back in 1983, then again in 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987? Should I have not traveled around the world on my bicycle because of the statistical danger of riding a bike? Should all of us just stop living, talk on Zoom, play so called “Social” computer games like Fortnite and Call of Duty:Warzone! Shall we all lock ourselves up in our apartments and houses while letting our parents die alone in hospital beds? Shall we welcome children into the world isolated, no happy grandparents, no joy of bringing forth new life into the world, so we can flatten a curve on a graph? Is it safer to let people in their ‘Golden Years’ of life right now, live out their last days, weeks or months alone with no family visits? Is it better to stop our population from exercising, the elderly, the young and everyone in between from getting outside for the much-needed health benefits of walking, cycling and human interaction, especially when we’d benefit most right now with a healthy, active population? Do we stop dancing, making music together and just wait for life to somehow get back to a time when we can leave the supposed safety of confinement? Do we let our children happily play violent video games because it’s considered a social thing to do in this time of lockdown? If collectively we had come to the decision that this is the best way forward for humanity to fight a virus, then it might sit a bit easier. But to accept decisions from above, yes from those same governments and leaders who have helped steer us towards the third economic meltdown in twenty years, climate on the brink of catastrophe, and a war and refugee crisis that is, and has been, out of control for decades – well before Corona was a deadly virus, but just an average beer from Mexico. Has fear taken the driver seat of our collective common sense?
I am only asking questions. Probably like many of you, I find the conflicting news reports completely baffling, conspiracy theories abound, numbers go up, numbers come down, Sweden did the right thing, Sweden screwed up big time. Confinement worked, confinement didn’t work. A vaccination will save the day, a vaccination will track us for life and take away the personal sovereignty of our own bodies. My head reels!!
My biggest fear right now is not questioning to what extent do we put life on hold to contain a virus, because life and death, as we all know, can not be put on hold. Human suffering and death is nothing new. In fact today world-wide upwards of 821 million people suffer chronically from hunger while at the same time 2.8 million die each year of being overweight or obese. We can lock ourselves away and hide from Covid-19, but these other shocking numbers will still linger, or get worse, if we don’t collectively do something about them. Now may be that pivotal time in history when all of this suffering matters.
Refugee camps have not disappeared but the coral reefs in Australia are still disappearing as our collective eyes and energy are focused on the Coronavirus. Why are we looking only to our world leaders for advice when we are all in this together, and always have been? Surely we should be part of the decision making process and help make our own sensible choices at such a crucial time in history, and always ever after. It’s true we might not always make the right decisions, but as the WHO and many other countries of the world have shown in dealing with Covid-19, there is no ‘one’ way to deal with this pandemic. Citizen’s Assemblies would come into their own right now playing a crucial role in steering us towards better alternatives to navigating this awkward time we are currently in and helping to include more of us to be pro-active in how we deal with many of the challenges being a planetary citizen involves.
Before Covid-19 entered all of our lives with astonishing speed, there seemed to be a big awakening happening. Maybe it’s just blind optimism on my part, but the fact that self-help and meditation was in the middle of such a world-wide boom in the west helped me feel that a change was coming. Climate started becoming a focus our attention couldn’t be averted from any longer, the young were starting to speak up, because they, after all, were being handed the mess we all helped create. Then bam, social distancing, flattening the curve and stay the fuck at home. Can we all have a say in what happens next? No one is absolutely sure where we are headed, so just maybe we should be making these big decisions together before we blindly accept house arrest, economic collapse and social disaster. Can we step up to the plate on this one? Can this be our new beginning, our new involvement with life, not just turning a blind eye and hope technology or a bunch of new laws will pave our paths safely into the future? Mistakes will be made, but we could all be part of the process, instead of the all-encompassing, not quite defined, ‘Them’? In the vast majority of cases people do not willingly swerve across the white line when they are driving at 60mph down the road. We have built-in survival instincts. No-one wants to contract this virus. Give us some responsibility and we will react in kind, but treat us like prisoners with no sense of our own to protect ourselves and others and we begin to feel oppressed and our stress hormones kick in, affecting our immune system negatively just when we need it the most. Our attention becomes focused on our loss of freedom, livelihoods and independence – the “us and them” of law enforcement and people just trying to live a semblance of a normal life – and drawn away from working together to create a healthy way out of this situation. We must remain a unified humanity in our fight against the Coronavirus. We might now be soon approaching a tipping point where that is no longer the case if governments and authorities keep us locked down for much longer as the fabric of our lives unravels around us with a long hard journey back to our former selves stretching further off into an unknown future we seem to have no say in.
The fear mustn’t take hold. The media and governments are good at selling and instilling fear, manipulating us all and keeping us confused. At any other time in history we would question our leaders and new rules enforced overnight to make us act in ways we would never dream of. I can’t even believe it sometimes when I hear the news of unattended funerals, lonely deaths and joyless births marking the two most important events that connect each and everyone one of us with our common humanity. Can we really let the unknown potential of a virus that is seemingly here to stay for a while dictate our lives in such a way for an undetermined length of time?
As, ‘social distancing’ becomes a new catch phrase, masks become the norm in city streets, and the counterintuitive, unnatural, human isolated condition becomes the new normal (just when we need to be at our healthiest to fight off the Coronavirus), Zoom meetings, virtual concerts, youtube and Netflix watching become the saviors of the day. Yes, it helps us through these crazy times, but does it really save the day? Surely we need a healthy, happy, balanced population to face down this threat to our health. I have heard many people say that they are actually enjoying the forced time at home. Sure, the privileged of us who have lovely homes, gardens and families to be with are benefitting wonderfully. Unfortunately that is not the story for so many others. I ask those who are feeling the benefit of the forced lockdown, change your life when this all ends. If you learned to play an instrument, join a band. If you were lucky enough to have a garden and enjoyed finding your ‘green thumbs’, start a community garden afterwards. If you were frustrated because you couldn’t help more, volunteer with an NGO, give a month of your life working in a refugee camp, become a health practitioner, a yoga teacher, a nurse or a doctor.
This is the time for all of us to take control of our lives. If we like certain aspects of this lockdown, incorporate it into the future. Do we really want to live without hugs, kisses, picnics with friends, live music, celebrating together and all that is part of our social make up as humans? Do we want to be forced to not be able to be at the bedside of a dying loved one, or greet our new grandchild, son or daughter in person? Do we want to have our young impressionable children seeing human breath as bad, touching as unhealthy and socializing dangerous? While subtly implanting ideas that masks are good, distancing is healthy, meeting on screens is normal and isolating is safe? Do we want our slightly techno-addicted population to have a near constant fix of streaming, zooming, texting, gaming, while cycling, hiking, camping, getting out in nature and socializing with our family and neighbors becomes illegal? These are the powerful questions we must ask ourselves. Are we giving into a fear of our own mortality? Have we lost sight of the full picture? Are we so glad of well-needed free time that we are willing to close our eyes to the reality we are now creating? Life, I’ll say it once again, can be risky. But life is ours to live.
We take our chances, we cross those roads, mostly, those of us lucky enough to be reading this, create our own prisons or paradises, but please let’s not be thankful for a month or two where the pressure is off because we’re on forced lockdown. The pressure is on now more than ever. If you hear yourself saying I’m quite enjoying this down time, deeply listen to that and act on it. On the other hand, if you are put into the unfortunate position of not being able to be with a loved one in a time of need, question that as well. We can’t let this pandemic take away our humanity. On the other side of Covid-19 there will be a lot of healing to be done. Suffering from unfortunate losses in our lives, and also looking back at what really happened to us all.
We are in this circle of life and death together. Now we just need to emerge from our slumber and realize that even if our life is so privileged that this lockdown is seen as a good thing and time for a breather, we have lots of collective work to do. Too many of our planetarian brethren are suffering, we can’t just pat ourselves on the back and say, “Wasn’t I such a good person staying at home so others could live!” We need to get out there, be the change we want to see in ourselves and the way modern life is lived. When people don’t die from walking in polluted streets, refugee camps are a thing of the past, and we can all enjoy time being with our loved ones in a peaceful world, then we have done our jobs. Coronavirus will be a blip in our memories one day, or just another virus out there amongst the many others. But how will the world look when we re-emerge from this confinement? It is up to you and I to be a part of that healing moment.
These are important times, the humanity in us all will get us through this, but we will need to detox from the technology and overdose on human contact. Hopefully we’ll all remember how much we missed everything we took for granted before we were all told to stay at home. I somehow feel after we come out of our corners, rub our eyes, stretch out our arms, breath deep and let out a huge sigh of relief, the first thing we’ll want is a handshake, hug or kiss hello without wondering if it is safe to touch that person. Of course it is, it always has been, the question truly should be is it safe not to embrace our fellow human beings? After all, it’s that fall out of bed that we should really be wary of!!