As lockdown loomed over us in March it didn’t take psychic abilities to see how this was going to go down in a house of pre-teens and teenagers. So in one attempt to amuse and educate my kids who I knew would become more reluctant with every day, I ordered five, furry, freaky caterpillars to arrive in time to share quarantine with us. Predictably, I was the most excited to watch their journey of transformation into stunning Painted Lady butterflies as I took videos charting their progress. I started referring to the day they broke through their cosy cocoon made of the finest silk as their ‘emergence’.
It took weeks for our increasingly fat hungry caterpillars to spin into their metamorphoses. Their isolation had coincided almost exactly with our own. It was a delightfully simple parallel to our own lives that the kids failed to be delighted by. I, however, was mesmerised (remember, excitement was in short supply). Naively, I never suspected all those weeks ago that the butterflies would fly free long before us.
But the start of summer has arrived and it seems we too are slowly emerging from lockdown as June’s flowers begin to blossom. Whether our flight to freedom from quarantine should happen quite as quickly… well, only time will tell. As people debated this vehemently, some fiercely optimistic and others fatally cynical as to what the end of lockdown would mean, the word emergence seemed so apt. And even more so when I discovered a robust scientific concept named Emergence Theory (hey, I was a humanities girl at school so my science is woefully lacking).
Emergence refers to a complex series of results that occur when relatively more simple entities come together and work as a whole. Now one might hesitate to call human beings simple organisms (though I can think of some to whom this applies; certain world leaders anyone?) but emergence theory may be the only way to beat this virulent virus. It is the cooperation of entire communities, countries and continents agreeing to measures, such as social distancing and washing hands till they turn into dried husks, that will keep the death rate down. And then surely it is the cooperation of doctors, scientists, patients and their empirical evidence that will lead to the medicine and vaccinations that truly guarantee our freedom.
And that’s only the first step because when we emerge, into what are we emerging?
In one corner we have the optimists weaving silver linings into a hopeful future. They talk of increased bird song, lower carbon emissions, fewer flights, increased community spirit and cohesiveness, new perspectives on materialism and, of course, dolphins reappearing in canals and rivers. For Douglas Adams fans the fact that the dolphins have yet to jump a hoop and disappear saying “so long and thanks for all the fish,” is our greatest sign of hope.
Despite the planet’s sticking by us we all are disturbed by flickers of fear in our bellies, by disquieting dystopian thoughts that lurk in our souls fed by a diet of apocalypse fiction and film. And this is what we find in the other corner. The naysayers and end is nigh brigade predicting mutating viruses and death on a doomsday level. They are not dismissed easily because the supporting evidence is compelling too. You need only look at the horrifying riots in America spreading worldwide almost as fast as the virus, as racial tensions spike in the heat and misery of traumatised populations angry at centuries of injustice, made raw by increasing financial ruin and the fear of a terrifying disease.
Carbon emissions are down but public transport is a new enemy. It doesn’t look like cars will be abandoned anytime soon. As travel agents and flights open for business will the stampede for desperately needed breaks undo all the good work? Will we quickly forget that we have enough clothes when retails reopens tantalising us with the siren call of the shiny and new?
Finally, our apocalyptic bedmates would remind us that a vaccination is a long shot given the virus’s similarity to the common cold which has never seen a cure.
These are extremes, however. We have an entire spectrum in-between. These include the grinches that curtain twitch in despair at those ignoring the rules and defecating in gardens they pass on ill-advised day trips. But there are also those who see hope in small incremental changes for the better, celebrating a slow move from previous frenzied consumerism, supporting calls to rebuild using a Green New Deal and celebrate the latest launch to space and all it represents.
We all contain the Utopian idealist, doomsayer, optimist and defeatist inside our soul. Who has the loudest voice and how we will emerge remains to be seen. But the world we are left with will be the result of every single one of us brought together as a whole, whether we like it or not.
Copyright by Sonia D. Picker