There’s something about leading a normal life when terrible things are happening in the world that is very odd. We wake up, and we eat, and we go about our business. We feel horror at what is happening, and fear of what might be to come, but, for most of us, our lives simply continue. There is no doubt that we’re lucky to be in our current position of safety, but it’s true to say that many of us are consumed by anxiety, both about what is happening and for those people who are not safe, and also about our own increasingly fearful view of the world.
Covid came as a terrible shock to most of us, despite previous concerns that such a pandemic was a potential risk. We had never before been in this position, facing fear and death, and then the restrictions that were put in place. I was lucky, as a health professional, because I carried on going to work throughout, so although my social life was sorely restricted, I still met people and went out into the world. It is only now, as the restrictions lift, that I realise just how hard they have been for so many. There have been long periods of not seeing those they love, as well as fear and guilt – of catching covid, but also of infecting others and living with that. Many people’s lives have closed right in. We may think that things are just the same, but they are not. Covid has left a mark on all of us, and I wonder if we will ever be the same.
But war is something different, perhaps because it is driven by humans against humans. This is no virus that we can fight together, which was at least mindless in its attack on us. There have always been wars, but many of us have never experienced them personally. ‘The War to end all Wars’ did not do so, and complacency builds easily. My parents were born in the Second World War, and we grew up on the stories of this, and were glad that this was not something that we would have to live through. And I have often thought – How lucky I am to live in an era of peace, where I can work and study and be happy, and bring my own children into a world where their lives will not be blighted by war.
I think, also, that our fears are magnified by Covid. At the start we thought that it was nothing, that it would quickly be over, and now we have learnt that not everything is easily fixed. Perhaps we fear the worst, given that we were wrong at the start about the pandemic. Now we know that life is not as we thought it was, that there are shadows that we never saw in our earlier lives.
But life goes on for most of us, as it must. I will continue to go to work, speak with my family, walk my dogs, eat and drink. I will also enjoy myself when I can. This feels wrong when such terrible things are being enacted, but how will it help anyone if I don’t? Joy keeps us alive, I think, and while it will be attenuated by wider fears and sorrows, it is only human to experience it when we can. There may be things that we can do as individuals to support those victims of war; but, for many of us, the best we can do is to continue our normal lives. In my work, I support those with mental illness and addiction, and I must carry on doing this, to the best of my ability. Their suffering is not alleviated by others suffering elsewhere, and they have not become less deserving because others are also in dire need.
Carrying on with our lives can also help us to manage uncertainty, and there is likely to be a lot of this. Waiting for uncertainty to end, without occupation, is a sure way to make it more unbearable, and few of us have any influence whatsoever on current happenings. Perhaps it is a time for reflection, but we must contain our thinking, and not let it pull us down into dread and panic. I don’t mean that we should take a facile approach, or ignore what we hear. But we must be cautious, and not overwhelm ourselves, so easily done with the massive and continual nature of news and social media.
We all hope for early peace, and as little loss of life as can be possible, but I would urge everyone to look after themselves and their friends and families. Don’t feel guilt for doing this, and for living life as you usually would. WH Auden describes it best, in the first few lines of his poem, Musee des Beaux Arts: –
About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along…