Our lives these days are far from normal. But there are messages in the void. The disruption we feel in our everyday lives is also an opportunity to recognize things we too often take for granted.
The unnatural efforts we must take to keep our distance from our fellow humans highlight that our natural state is one of mutual dependence, cooperation, and camaraderie.
We are by nature social creatures that need and depend on one another to establish communities bound together by shared ideals and values. When we are disturbed by our eerily empty city streets, it is because at some deep level we know that the soul is not the private possession of isolated individuals but rather extends beyond individuals to embrace the greater world.
We have been told to stay at home. Notice how that feels like a confinement. This feeling tells us that home is more than that place populated by our families, animal companions, and possessions, more than the place we lay our heads down to sleep.
We are all creatures of the greater world, and when we are confined away from it we long for it.
Goethe said, “Tell me what you long for and I’ll tell you who you are.” When we long to get outside, back to our forests and our streets, back to the pleasures of social closeness, we are reminded that we require those things to be who we are.
Our souls are not limited to the private words we think we hear within our own heads. Without the greater world, our souls grow lonely and stifled, and we feel that loss in our longing for beauty, love and affection.
Perhaps when this crisis finally fades we will see our responsibility to that greater world more clearly. The many threats to our planet are not external to us. Humans did not create the novel coronavirus, but denial and neglect aided its spread and severity of impact.
Like the virus, the degradation of nature, the exponential loss of species diversity and the deadly warming and acidification of air, earth and water are not only objective realities. They are also embodied and reflected in our personal and psychological lives.
This pandemic, which literally means “all people,” shows us that we are inexorably connected to one another and to the many things of the world.
As we persevere through these difficult times, we would do well to also fully feel and appreciate their difficulty. Take some time away from distractions and diversions to reflect on this moment of forced solitude.
It is a frightening time, but it is also a time when we can reground ourselves in a fuller understanding of the world and our place within it. We don’t know how long we will be kept away from the beckoning world, but eventually this quiet moment will pass and the noise will begin again.
When that time comes, we will be better as individuals and as a people if we keep a little piece of disturbing quiet with us. There are other voices straining to be heard, voices that we need to hear.
Ben Sells is Riverside’s village president.