Interregnum

March 25, 2020 — 10 Comments

A recent Sunday morning was spent speaking to a small congregation of Unitarian Universalists, www.uua.org whose seven principles would seem to be a pretty good guide for decent living. I promised that Same View, Different Lens would discuss cultural awareness in a world wherein countries, and some peoples, are reverting to an insular and intolerant outlook.

But this isn’t a piece about the brilliance of my talk! Rather it is the coincidental nature of it as the precursor to the hell happening around the world as COVID-19 shuts down our borders. An action wholly understandable but which threatens to make us more inward looking and parochial, quick to lay blame beyond our boundaries.

Pico Iyer, a philosopher and travel writer I much admire says in his book The Global Soul, “The airport was a rare interregnum– a place between two rival forms of authority– and the airplane itself was a kind of enchanted limbo…. And so, half-inadvertently, not knowing whether I was facing east or west, not knowing whether it was night or day, I slipped into that peculiar state of mind– or no-mind– that belongs to the no-time, no-place of the airport, that out-of-body state in which one’s not quite there, but certainly not elsewhere.”

It is this feeling, this interregnum, in which I find myself now. Not, however, the anticipatory kind of limbo that airports induce but rather in a discombobulated state of nowhereness. I should be used to that feeling. I grew up a ‘Nowherian’ as Derek Walcott, the St Lucian poet called us. An in-betweener, and so am accustomed to often being on the outside looking in, to not always quite fitting into a prescribed mold. 

My family is global. My daughter is married to a Trinidadian and lives in Port of Spain, my son is soon to marry a Polish woman. They live in London. I have no doubt we will continue to live in different parts of the world, that their children will grow up with an inherent cultural awareness and, as I sit fretting at the keyboard, I remind myself that cultural awareness and common sense go hand-in-hand. I just need to get a better handle on the latter in these days of COVID-19 because I have a constant refrain in my head. 

What if they need me?

I know that is highly unlikely. I believe and trust in their ability to deal with anything thrown at them. That was how they were brought up, around the same world they now have the temerity to call their playground. And, in my current state of mind and despite my pride in them, I am to blame for their independence. 

It was only this morning, as I walked my dog along the empty Boardwalk in Christiansted, I realised what is causing my somewhat irrational mood. It is grief. 

Grief for a world that has changed beyond anything I could have imagined. No one knows how long borders or skies will be closed. A sorrow for those whose family and friends have died from this rampant virus. But my newly understood grief is also selfish one. It is grief at the freedoms I have lost, the freedom to hop a plane to see my children. It has sent me to find words vaguely remembered from when my father died. In his desk I had found a book of quotes, snippets of Latin and Greek, Malay and Urdu, he jotted down. Words that took his fancy. The words I wanted were written by the British doctor and eugenicist – not a science I agree with but, in the current context, wise words nonetheless, “All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.” 

So in this interregnum, this limbo, I must accept that some things have changed, maybe forever. That is the grief. I must embrace the ease of virtual communication which, for a while, is replacing the joy of real and tactile social intercourse. With vigilance COVID-19 will be contained and once it has run its course our borders will be reopened, and our minds once more excited about the infinite possibilities and cultural awareness that travel provides. But for now it is a time of letting go, and holding on, and remembering we see the same views through different lenses.

10 responses to Interregnum

  1. 

    Thank you Apple. We, too, grieve the freedom of travel at this time when our parents, children, and grandchildren are apart from us. What if they need us?

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  2. 

    Apple – so good to hear from you…and, while I share your feelings, I haven’t yet used the term “grief” as my overall description. Dana & I are in AZ, daughter with her family in Philadelphia, and son with family in London. April trip to return to Philadelphia canceled. Late April trip to London canceled. BUT we are all healthy, following the “rules” of social distancing (as frustrating as they are! when healthy!), and feeling sadness for those afflicted. So, I guess my overall feeling can best be described as “thankful” – for good health, amazing family, terrific friends (like you!), and for hope that we will get through this, knowing that the CoronaVirus is put to its final end. Not sure where I read it, but it was suggested that we need to avoid living in fear. I’m doing that – focusing on waking up each morning, able to breathe, no coughs or fever, and thankful for another day. I wish that for you and everyone. All the very best, and thanks for sharing.

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  3. 
    Elizabeth Betsy Rezende March 26, 2020 at 12:43 am

    For Virgin Islanders this shelter in place is very similar to waiting for WAPA to connect the power on your street after a cat 5 hurricane. You may see electricity in the streets down the hill from you, but you in your darkness are so isolated and you don’t know when the light will come. After the end of this virus, when other countries get up and running before us (and they will because they sheltered first) then the real sense of hopelessness will come. The fact that the Danes for example will be the only ones back to normal will be irksome. They will however still be banned from our borders, and we will still be grounded. The sorriest aspect of all this is the longer the borders are closed our president will be happiest (and we can see his glee at every daily press conference) . This is what he has wanted all along.
    But to think of borders metaphorically might be more doable when one is transposed through reading. Two great novels of Trinidad are Lauren Francis-Sharma’s Til the Well Runs Dry ( Holt and Co.) and Claire Adam’s Golden Child (Faber & Faber), both of which bring us back to a simpler time in Trinidad, when children were seen and not heard ,and consequently with such a philosophy were beaten frequently. There was little empathy for disabled or slow-learning sons and daughters. Hopefully the best practices of other societies have leant us all a deeper understanding of modern-day child rearing.
    In the end, through all of this isolation what will we have we learned from this ? Have we from this abrupt and interrupting experience become better humans?

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  4. 

    Thank you, Apple, for putting into words what so many of us are feeling right now.

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  5. 

    Indeed this “interregnum” is giving us the time to evaluate our past and future perceptions and actions. I am hopeful that many of us will value the smallest of gifts that we all have in life and maintain a kinder and selfless society. Somehow I doubt it.

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  6. 

    Glorious words. I want to clip and preserve chunks of it for future writings. Thank you.

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  7. 

    You actually hit the nail on the head for my feelings to Apple I just suddenly realized that it is grief for the loss of life I knew not that I have anything to complain about because compared to the hurricane this is a cakewalk but I think it’s the fact that I’m isolated. Being used to just getting into the car and going anywhere I want. Thank you xx

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  8. 

    Beautifully written. I love the quote from your father

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  9. 

    I find my feelings run thru your words and as I work each day I find so much hope. The kindness I see and experience daily is breathtaking and our shared need to stay in the loving my path always…..

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