By Jonathan Hadas Edwards & Julia Hartsell
In our last article we argued that humankind is entering a chrysalis in which the old is melting down and from which the new will ultimately be born. This initiation is necessary from the butterfly’s point of view, but it’s also a painful, messy and incredibly intense process. Still, much as we might like to do so, we can’t bypass the meltdown.
Here we are, then, in the chrysalis, a liminal space set apart from ordinary reality. We’re entering into a pause, a breach, an opening. We're entering a sacred time. But what does it mean to exist within sacred time, and what are we supposed to do here, while the virus rages outside?
Let us first acknowledge that the crisis demands a different order of response from the frantic activity that got us into this mess in the first place. Writer Bayo Akomolafe quotes an elder in his native Nigeria who offered this paradoxical-sounding suggestion: the times are urgent, we must slow down. The hustle and bustle that characterize the modern world will not avail us now. Akomolafe likewise points out that the word taboo, from the Polynesian tapu, connotes not an absolute prohibition, but a need to approach slowly in the presence of the numinous. Such a stricture applies now, in this sacred interval, when our every decision can have exponential repercussions. We must indeed tread carefully, step by deliberate step--all the more so around the equinox, one of the year's crossroads, already a tricky moment. It is crucial to move with great care around every choice, every outing, every point of contact. And in order to do that, we first have to slow down--indeed, to stop.
We grant that slowing down may sound like privilege or outright impossibility, as many scurry to squirrel away food for the uncertain weeks ahead, to radically transform their businesses to stay afloat, to organize community systems for mutual aid, to manage childcare full time. Survival demands coincide with heart wrenching choices and conversations: choosing those with whom we’ll share breathing space while excluding others from the circle of intimacy--all while staying current with the news and navigating a social life gone virtual.
If in this initial phase of the cocoon we seem caught between speeding up and slowing down, this is only to be expected. We’re caught between many things here at the crossroads. Between fear and hope, generosity and conservation, denial and grief. Between freedom and imprisonment. Between life and the grave. Between personal desires and care for the common good. Between living as if we have the virus and living as if we may contract it on any new item introduced to the home. Between those of us who see this time as the seed for a revolutionary and humane way of life and those who cling to profiting on the suffering of others. Between preparing for our own deaths and preparing for the world that will follow if we survive. Betwixt and between, we await the coming storm. Not knowing where the eye will land.
So yes, in this time of heart-wrenching tensions, slowing down and stopping may seem nearly impossible. Let us honor these acts, however, as vital and radical. It is radical to go slow in a society where ‘slow’ has become an all but pejorative term; a society that tells us to hurry for the sake of our great god, market efficiency; a society whose mythology and economy are founded on rampant expansion. What’s more, we sense that like water skiers, the moment we slow we will start to sink down out of the sunlit realms and into another world altogether. A realm of depth and dark that most of us have learned to fear. For among the denizens of this underwater world is death.
Even if we keep skating along the surface, death is swimming among us now, never far below. Though we do all we can to minimize the imminent loss, death is near. Talons, fangs, silent wings: death is coming. If not us then for a loved one or neighbor. If not for them, then for the era that is coming to a close. For cherished ways of life. For careers, hobbies, familiar comforts. For parts of ourselves.
There is no way to prepare for the profound losses that are around the corner. And yet, we’ve been granted this sacred time, a spell of calm before the imminent storm (on the cusp or breaking here in North Carolina's Haw River watershed). Granted a moment in the cocoon before the caterpillar completely melts down for metamorphosis. We have time, if we can only slow down into it, to drop down out of our spinning heads and into our bodies and hearts, to tune into what’s alive below the surface, what rings true.
In the moments when we’re able to slow down and listen, this is what we are hearing.
We are hearing that it won’t work to try and elbow our way through the (re)birth canal. Whether it lasts years or decades, the transformative process that’s underway can’t be rushed or forced. It has to be surrendered to, like the current of the great river referenced in this Hopi prophecy. (This doesn’t mean we’re not called upon to act, only that our action is subject to the larger forces at work and we can’t seek to control them.)
We are hearing that, in this time of transition, quality is more important than quantity, and connection counts over currency. That in the time to come, wealth will be measured in terms of relationships.
We are hearing that it’s time for great compassion and kindness--for ourselves and for others. Time for gratitude--for all who continue essential jobs and risk their lives. Time for generosity--with those who have less.
And we are hearing that the presence of death among us, too, is a gift--difficult, heartbreaking, but a gift nonetheless.
May we be present to our bodies and open our senses--to the redbuds blooming at dawn, the heron’s call over the water, the beating of our own hearts.
May we be inspired to reach out to loved ones, to reconnect and repair as needed.
May we deepen our relationships with our allies across the threshold and feel for the presence of our ancestors as this planetary portal opens.
And may we grieve. Before illness or death come to our doors, before our lungs are bogged down with fluid, may we open grief's gates with and for all who have already been lost in this mass extinction, and for those yet to depart.
May it be so.