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Time to write a new verse

It is with a sense of accomplishment that from time to time I find myself recalling the frantic nature of my returning home in the haze of medical uncertainty fogging the onset of the pandemic. I vividly relive the ferocious Bruce-Almighty-like stripping of my clothes at the front door, my James Bond-inspired avoidance of touching anything in my apartment, and my final athletic leap into the shower to rapidly rid myself of any bacterial beings that I befriended throughout the course of my day out. 

This vinyasa flow was then followed by a studious wipe-down of all the surfaces I theoretically could have encountered on the four-metre journey from my front door to the shower. 

For reasons of self-indulgence, I find it imperative to emphasise that the success of my corona elimination routine was made possible only by my strategic placement of a towel in the bathroom before going out, to prevent the likelihood of entering any “non-essential” space before I had been thoroughly shampooed and rinsed. 

My reward for this diligent behaviour was plonking myself down on the couch with a nice cup of rooibos tea.

Six months have passed and although I am more cognisant of touching my face, I cannot claim the levels of hygienic stringency of preliminary-stage CoronaTyler.  Six-month-stage CoronaTyler is, however, significantly stricter than not-knowing-corona-is-a-thing-stage Pre-CoronaTyler in the sanitary department.

We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.

Gwendolyn Brooks

With part of the global Covid-19 debate engulfed by information concerning the lifespan of the virus on different surfaces and the environments encouraging its spread, an undoubted inheritance of the pandemic is our heightened hygienic awareness. In the space of a few weeks we acquired an acute awareness of submicroscopic agents lurking each day, and how these biological intangibles can indiscriminately affect strangers, friends and family alike. 

Our current, collective Covid-19 moment of reorientation (there have been myriad) summons us to confront all the other intangibles that we are carrying every day. 

I think about all the energy I invested trying to close a door with my elbow or lift a toilet seat with my foot so as not to bring these invisible germs home with me… then I wonder about how much energy I invested in coming home with presence, attentiveness or “convivial listening,” in Mary Oliver’s words? 

In addition to these microbes, what else is accompanying us home, cognitively, emotionally, socially, communally, spiritually?

One salient and depressing feature of our modern world — of the systems we have engineered and created, of our formal institutions  —  is that we are expected to bring the best version of ourselves to the workplace (even if today it be remotely via Zoom). This results in our bringing our less-best selves home. 

In the depths of my being I know that I should be saving my best energy reserves for my brother’s phone call at 11pm, but I also know that this is often when I am most absent and drained; a dissipating shadow of my best self. 

But, the attainment of a home, in both its physical and emotional dimensions, and the relationships that live there (including my brother’s regular phone call at 11pm), are some of the aims of our daily toil, why we arrive at work with our best selves, isn’t it? We work so hard for a happy home, yet sacrifice the very thing we are so intent on protecting, guarding, building and fostering. We have become firm and resolute in not allowing harmful microbes into our homes; yet what other damaging forces are constantly entering unchecked as a consequence?

On a run through my neighbourhood in Tel Aviv the other day I saw a bumper sticker bearing the Hebrew word “kesem”, which translates to “magic”. Branching off from each of the letters comprising kesem were three separate words — “kehila” (community) “sviva” (environment) and “makom” (place). Magic indeed. Yet, what is my individual role, what is our collective role, in converting these sounds and syllables, these cliched, loved yet elusive terms into spaces of grace, connection, belonging, reciprocity; into tangible actions that transcend the ubiquitous tribalism and public polarisation polluting our public discourses? To paraphrase Walt Whitman, as the “powerful play goes on,” what verses are we contributing?

Among our rigid regimes of hand-washing, mask-wearing and temperature-checking, attempting to live responsibly with the virus until a hopefully more permanent solution (such as a vaccine) arrives; in a moment where, as my friend remarked, “our unpredictabilities are unpredictable”, we should add rebirth and revitalisation. Let this be a moment of reset and re-evaluation of our core collective values; of consciously deciding what we are nourishing and what version of ourselves will emerge on the delicate piece of Earth we have inherited. 

In this undefined stretch of acute pain and dislocation — where even our healers are struggling to heal, where restaurateurs are struggling to entice us with their delicacies; where artists whose spirits blossom through entertaining, cannot entertain; where parents and guardians are struggling to feed or teach their children —  in this state of flux and becoming, we are being called to be nobody but ourselves and to reimagine what we are reaching for in both form and practice.

Bearing in mind Brazilian philosopher Roberto Unger’s poetic pronouncement of hope as the “visionary anticipation of a direction,” the world is pleading for us to consider what forms of living we are individually and collectively cultivating. Rather than a mere heightened hygienic awareness, let us utilise this moment to consciously decide what we are nurturing both inside and outside the home, acknowledging that in the span of our daily interactions what we are leaving our homes with, someone else is returning home with.

The words of Gwendolyn Brooks never rang more true: “We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”

In a time of seemingly eroding possibilities may this be the birth of new ones.

Author

  • Having grown up in Johannesburg, Tyler Fouché is now studying towards his master's in sociology and anthropology at Tel Aviv University. Reading, running, writing, family, yoga, dips in the ocean and interactions with individuals are what feeds his intellectual, emotional and creative spirit.