Ending July, Beginning August
I never could remember July as a month of strong wind. Dry, yes but not windy.
But the world, it seems, has shifted its axis. This morning, the 27th of July, the trees in front of my place, shook. My grandmother would have said: bring the rains and this is already a storm.
The wind continued till noontime. The birds – quite a few of them every morning – had all but disappeared, except for the brown ones who were on the ground, pecking.
The common birds, we call them. But, as I watched them that day, they were far from common. They were the most unusual, the bravest, of beings foraging as if that was the last day of their little lives.
Were they sensing something in space when they flapped those small, clipped wings? When they flew around and rushed against the air, less friendly and a bit more vicious in this season, was there a premonition of dark mornings?
“Downward to darkness, on extended wings,” the last line in Wallace Stevens’s Sunday Morning, says it all. Transcendental but dreary, spiritual but resigned to the matters around.
Would I think of birds and wings and the loss of spirit in another season? Would I even look up at the sky at four in the morning if the times were not unusual?
Online, each day, Facebook profiles suddenly turn black. Gone are the favorite candles lighted for those we love and are gone. Even in virtual space, candles have become trite symbols of our grief and loss. When before these candles, the wick promising eternity, could link us up with other people, presently, we need to negotiate the diction of our sorrows.
People are just dying. That statement has ceased to be a hyperbole. People are indeed perishing. No clan is exempted; no village is more blessed to be luckier over other villages. All of us contribute to the sad statistics.
If we started this Age by counting, then we are continuing to live by not counting. We leave the enumeration to institutions that will need to report how each neighborhood, each block, each household has added a body to the pandemic.
No one has come forward to assure us this will soon be over. Not Death, for dying is part of our human nature, but the fact that death appears more regularly and more predictably. And that death has been caused by a single virus, now mutating, now unseen, and now, more than ever, growing more virulent.
Science, which has assured humankind ever since, has become the fulcrum for doubt and not truth. The philosophers might think their contribution to the splendor of existence is their investigation of truth. But truths in their bastion, which is science, are never permanent. Each day practically, new findings are disclosed. Each day, also practically, our confidence in what human intellect can do to save us grows weaker and weaker.
I like what Peter Berger said about science in his paper, Moral Judgment and Political Action: “Contrary to popular notion, science is the realm not of certainty, but of probabilities.” Which should bring us to our next query, where then should we find certainty – or an amount of truth, perhaps – when all around us is ambiguity?
Berger, from the same paper, offers what I believe is, an answer: “The only certainties to be had in human life are in the realm of the raison du coeur; they are moral and religious, not scientific in nature.”
Raison du coeur. Reason of the heart.
When all else fails to persuade us – science, politics, the might of governments – then there is always the heart, Peter Berger has written.
Many of us have been relying on our steadfast heart these past few months. I do.
When deaths from any cause reaches me, I pray. This is a rediscovery, the keenness to prayer. It is not about the formulaic prayers but those old prayers do help, those short prayers we took by heart, which we can mumble even as we tie our shoes, or as we shut the windows because the wind is endless, or as we slowly close our eyes tired from all the gloom for just a day.
There is also a different kind of praying, or wishing for this world to heal and with it, all of us. This I do by going to a church or stopping by a field or a river bend. There I think in the silence or in the darkness, or in the breadth and width of the land, how a single life lost is forever important. It does not matter to know how that person lived; it is enough to know a virus unseen has made him gone.
These small gestures help me not to be mindless when I post, unthinking, online my “prayers” and “sympathies.” In those brooding spaces, I will see myself not getting tired of hearing about deaths so that I will not give up all news about life and living.