By HOWARD FELDMAN
Whereas I am not a coronavirus expert, I have been a hypochondriac for some years. I am also am a radio talk show host, author and a social commentator, which perhaps qualifies me in some way to speak of social impact of this illness.
There have been some pivotal moments in my lifetime: the falling of the Berlin wall, 9/11 and now COVID-19. All of these events changed the world. In each case the world before and after looked different. Prior to the coronavirus, our lives and our planet had begun to spin faster and faster. Smartphones, social media and app-based businesses such as Uber and Tinder meant that everything had become instantaneous. International travel was as common as getting on a bus. Hook-ups had become the norm, and climate activists screamed of the end of time.
The Yeats poem, Things Fall Apart, perfectly captured our state of being. ”Turning and turning and widening Spyre, the falcon cannot hear the falconer, the centre cannot hold…. Things fall apart.”
Indeed, things have fallen apart.
On my morning show, I spoke to a friend who lives in Venice. She and her family live in a small apartment. They are in isolation and it’s not easy. Each day is a challenge and she takes the quarantine day by day by day. The essence of her advice was profound. And she repeated this numerous times: “Just be still.”
This is difficult advice for 2020 residents to adhere to. It is counter to everything we have come to know. Our need is “to do.” That is the reason that we rush out to buy toilet paper. It’s why run to fill our homes with things that we don’t need and why we obsessively gather and share information. In many ways the world is being reset. It’s like God has hit the reboot button and we need to be patient while we come back online. In the meantime, travel has paused, factories have stopped. And families have to retreat into their homes and their units. It means not going to bars, and clubs and movies and restaurants and schools and functions. It means not rushing anywhere. It means not shaking hands but rather turning inwards and focusing on who we are and not on what others are.
Remember the time when we would write a letter to a friend. We would do this by hand and then go and mail the letter. The recipient would wait until the postman trudged up the road slowly and delivered mail from house to house. We are not going back to that. We don’t need to, but we need to learn some lessons from that time. We need to be still. I am not of course speaking of the incredibly brave souls who are the frontlines fighting the disease, researching it or who are supporting the rest with medical care or food and essentials.
If we are not one of them, then we need to do what is expected of us. We need to be still for long enough that we can see the joy in the small things again; the things that we have stopped to notice all around us. The sound of birds in the garden, the pets in our homes, our spouses, children and time itself. The universe has slowed us down. And we need to slow down with it.
There is God in the pause. There is God in the space. And there is space for us in it as well.
The message of the virus is clear and uncomplicated – the only way to deal with is to retreat, isolate and wait. There is nothing to be achieved by fighting it. The answer is simpler than we imagine. It’s just to “Be still.”
Howard Feldman is one of South Africa’s leading entrepreneurs. His experience is global and extensive, spanning more than 20 years of working as a business strategist, keynote speaker, published author, both locally and globally, social and political commentator, morning drive show host and philanthropist.