Talking Point – September 2020

Space to breathe
Towards the beginning of the lockdown, I read a disturbing thought on my old friend Matt’s Facebook: “We are the virus, corona is the cure.” It is a disturbing thought for a few reasons. Firstly, it might well have annoyed half of the readers of this column enough that they have already stopped reading. It is disturbing because it makes us out to be a virus, but also because it forces us to confront the damage we have done to the planet and each other. It is deeply disturbing because of the irony of the creatures destroying the planet’s ability to breathe being attacked by a virus that destroys our own ability to breathe.
In The Matrix (a 1999 film by the Wachowskis), the darkest of the characters says, “Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment; but you humans do not. Instead you multiply, and multiply, until every resource is consumed. … There is another organism on this planet that follows the
same pattern… a virus.” Its dark, I know. But it’s true.
I must admit that at first Matt’s post annoyed me. Humanity is glorious in so many ways. We have endless creativity and
ingenuity woven into the fabric of our being. Yet as I thought about it, we have a distinct ability to bottle up our humanity and invest it only in those we like, or choose. Too often we are inhumane towards animals, the planet, and each other. We are driven to consume more than we need in the pursuit of comfort and ‘happiness’.
At our worst, we blinker ourselves from the difficult truth that our beautiful new thingamabob, which makes our heart
skip a beat, came at its bargain price because a child in a third world country works for barely enough food to survive.
Or worse, we shield our eyes from the brutality of a man who kneels in the neck of another human being while they gasp for air, pant “I can’t breathe,” and take their last breath crying for their mother. And that is to say nothing of our
failure to confront the horrific levels of domestic violence which destroy countless lives. All these seem unimaginable.
But they happen because someone feels it their right to exercise their power over another human being. I want to
be annoyed at Matt’s post, but honestly, it is hard to be anything but humbled.
So, what else have we ‘discovered’ during lockdown?
I read of people who were amazed at how much they could hear the birds singing. Yet researchers have found that birds
were singing more quietly because they no longer had to compete with the noise of cars. Birds had space to breathe.
UK road travel dropped to below 1955 levels, as we went for a walk or taught the children to ride bikes. We had space to
breathe. This year will represent the largest annual drop in carbon emissions on record. The Earth had space to breathe.
And we had time. Time to be. Time to play, learn, read, and think. Time to garden, finish projects, and catch up on our
chores. We had time to breathe!
Will it last? Do we really want to go back to what was before? Do we want to do all the things we did? Do we want
to work ourselves to death just to be replaced? Do we want to go back to the ever-increasing abuse of our planet and
each other, God’s gifts to us? Or, have we learned some of what it means to be human beings? Are you ready to learn
to leave space to breathe?

Martin Beukes

Methodist Minister in Caversham