“Do you know why we have the sunflowers? It’s not because Vincent van Gogh suffered. It’s because Vincent van Gogh had a brother who loved him. Through all the pain, he had a tether, a connection to the world. And that is the focus of the story we need – connection.”Hannah Gadsby
Having a disability means that ‘lock-down’ hasn’t changed the way I experience my life in a drastic way. I am used to spending lots of time on my own, sometimes feeling very isolated. I say this because I do think it’s important to remember that thousands of disabled people live a ‘lock-
down life’ every day of their lives.
During this time I have felt both connected and disconnected from my ‘normal’ relationships. I have been furloughed from work and have felt disconnected from something I feel passionately about and experienced the loss of the stimulation of being part of team of people who I respect deeply and admire.
Similarly I have felt the loss of physical contact with my family and especially my grandchildren – and they have felt it too. My grandson face-timed me last night very teary ‘ I miss you Grandma – I miss our bedtimes’. So I spent a couple of hours telling him “Peace at last’ which we both know by heart and has been our bedtime story since he was a baby, until he fell asleep.
“Story is the umbilical cord that connects us to the past, present, and future. Family. Story is a relationship between the teller and the listener, a responsibility. . . . Story is an affirmation of our ties to one another.” Terry Tempest Williams, Pieces of White Shell
In that act of sharing the routine of the story we both felt, I think, both closer and yet the also the deep indignation of the screen mediating our experience.
In other ways though family and long distance friendships have become more ‘ connected’ as we have made more of an effort not to take one another for granted and to ‘check in’ every week.
In our house, with my partner working from home, we have made
deeper connections with each other making the most of the
extra moments we share, surprisingly the tensions have been
remarkably few! We have both felt the loss of contact with friends
and family and spent a Saturday morning enjoying making simple
cards together trying to bridge the gap between screen mediated
relating and the reality of a simple hug. Several people cried when they
opened them. Like the screen between William and me, perhaps it was
because the card named out loud what we are all missing – those
small human interactions which are economically valueless and yet
essential to our well being.
Connection for me is also about working out how to re-negotiate the deep personal relationships which are no longer sustained by the myriad of small physical encounters. It’s about a growing recognition that actually the things which make us most connected to one another and to our world have no economic value. It’s about recognising that a system which reduces everything, the natural world included, to its economic value has a vested interest in undermining those connections because there is no money to be made out of them – if thats the case what makes us buy stuff we don’t need? – is it that we have been taught that the value of something lies only in what we have paid for it and that our identity is constructed by making sure we have ‘more’ or ‘better’ than our neighbours?
I’ve also been making connections in other ways too, about how we live and how we want to live for the future.
“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny, affects all indirectly.” Martin Luther King Jr
I have been saddened and outraged at the ways in which we have allowed one another and our world to be reduced to purely economic terms, ‘our human capital stock ready to go back to work’ is a phrase I will never forget. I’ve been appalled at my own complicity in recognising that I buy what I do not need. I am more aware than ever that my privileges have come and continue to come at the expense of others. I am deeply disturbed by the way that terms like individual freedom are used to oppress or endanger others. If there is one thing this time has taught me it’s that the relationships we have with one another are immeasurably important to our health as individuals and as a community. Indeed we not only need to be connected to one another we are connected and our decisions always impact the lives of others and our world, sometimes disproportionately to the positives we gain in making them.
So I leave you with this question from Maya Angelou
Art needs to ask us, ‘What do we think is our reason for being on this earth? What do we think is our right to abide on this planet? What is our duty to the planet? To other forms of life, with whom we are connected? To our own species?