It was one of Mark’s habits to stand, leaning at a road crossing, demonstrating to passing cars that he wasn’t in a hurry. This stepping back from that familiar tension between car driver and pedestrians waiting to get across had the potential to throw those whose approach to the crossing seemed fraught with potential frustration. I think of Mark often as I wait to cross the road, adopting the same nonchalant posture when I remember, hoping to indicate that all is well, that I’m in no particular hurry and am not intent on thwarting the driver’s desire to be on their way. Not so long ago when waiting at the crossings though, I more often than not found myself watching car upon car pass by – many of them with a lone driver – wondering what it would take for people to give up their reliance on this form of transport.
Now, just over two weeks into lockdown, what seemed like an unstoppable tide of traffic has been slowed to 1955 levels fall of up to 73 percent. Of course, this is a result of widespread restrictions on travel that have also seen air flights reduced by 60 per cent in Western Europe. We don’t know how people will behave once social distancing ends how or if their priorities will have changed. But for now at least it’s clear that ways of life that have been held non-negotiable are in fact fraught with fragility. Only a few months ago during the Extinction Rebellion protests, I was struck by the intense anger expressed by men in particular at the disruption. There was a widespread sense too that disrupting people’s way of life, particularly their ability to go to work, was beyond the pale.
That sense of the unstoppability of our way of life has been deeply challenged in a matter of weeks. It was never the case that our destiny was somehow above and independent of, the wellbeing of the earth. The dominance, exploitation and extraction that has structured our world always contained folly. Whatever the long term impact of this painful pause, there is perhaps space at this time, to begin to examine some of the myths and internal logic of our way of life, particularly the idea that the earth’s resources are ours to consume regardless of the damage to the its intricate and beautiful balance.
In her book Emergent Strategy Adrienne Maree Brown wrote that she felt she was living in the world of someone else’s imagination. That world has taken a strong knock these past weeks. Where that will take us, is up for grabs. There are those who are waiting for a return to ‘normality’, those who see this as an opportunity for change. To a degree, these responses resonate with those that rise during times of grief and loss, when the familiar world we lived in has been shattered and we contemplate the rubble, not yet able to pick out what remains, what has the potential to be restored. So at this time when there is a pause of the inevitable, there is an opening for the imagination, for the work of discovering the different kind of world waiting for us on the other side.