The newly sprung leaves far above me spread across the blue sky like part of a pointillistic painting. They float, as if detached from each other and the earth, small etches of chartreuse, this early in the season.
Did you know the color “chartreuse” is named after a French elixir that exhibits this in-between-yellow-and-green color? The liqueur is an infusion of special herbs, naturally that color. The formula has remained a carefully guarded secret by a monastic order for more than 400 years.
(This is what happens when you start down rabbit holes on the internet…)
Back to the leaves. They also remind me more prosaically of digital imaging pixels, an acronym for “picture element” (thank you, Wikipedia). The more pixels used in representing an image, the more information available to you.
In the case of these leaves, increasing the density will probably not tell me much more. But if I allow my eyes to simply drop down to the trunk of the tree, I receive additional information: the smooth gray bark tells me it is an American Beech. So the beech leaves dancing against the sky are the hopeful successors of the ones flattened under my feet, now decomposing in the soil into an elixir of water, minerals and other nutrients which will feed subsequent generations of leaves above.
Cycles: composed of myriad pixels of lives and deaths, lives and deaths.
I think of all of us now, across the world, pixelated into six-foot-apart lives, the amalgamation of which creates a wonderful picture of caring and concern, if we choose to see it that way. There is this strange contradiction: many of us are separated from those closest to us – unable to hug for goodness sake! At the same time, we feel ourselves connected to complete strangers in Japan and New Zealand and Germany and Kenya, when we see them in news reports, masked just as we are, all of us dealing with the incertitude of our individual and collective daily lives. Yes, though the threats and the challenges on a local basis may be vastly different, there remains a shared experience, not to mention a shared gratitude for the people who are essentially saving all our lives: the medical personnel, the trash collectors, the grocery clerks.
But the full picture is far from wonderful. The cycle includes too many deaths, exceeding 100,000 in the US as I write. The New York Times devoted an entire front page to the names of 1,000 individuals, only one hundredth of the total. These names on the page are persons. Unless we have lost someone, and my heart goes out to those who have, we so easily fall into a contemplation of numbers. Names of strangers. Not people.
Recently there have been news reports of people flooding public spaces without masks and without distancing, others actually fighting with store employees trying to enforce a “mask required” order. These scenes way heavy on my mind and my mood. How can people not get this? In a sense, the unmasked are living off the health of the collective, ignoring the possible contagion of others, and giving nothing in return.
There are t-shirts you can buy on Amazon that say “SELFISH And Proud of it.
What have we come to?
In Field with a view I explored the dangers of human exceptionalism, the metaphysical and theological implications of the vanity of self-importance on a species level. There is the possibility that we are only a passing phase in the overall history of the planet. And that was before Covid-19, which has demonstrated how the human animal is susceptible to the “whims” of another small being. “Being” might be too charitable, as it cannot replicate itself. It is just a bundle of genetic material that needs the duplicative ability of cells of a host species to reproduce a “pseudo-living” being. I suppose from the point of view of the virus, the human animal is indeed delightfully exceptional. Easy pickings. We have no antibodies to defend ourselves.
When I think about it, humans are like a virus upon the planet, in the sense that we rely more and more upon scarce resources that have never been exclusively our own: the essential services of air, water, soil, other living beings. We so rarely recognize them, pay them the respect they deserve, or thank them, acknowledging our reliance.
Humans are pixels in complicated ecosystems, alongside other animate and inanimate pixels, from soil to sloths, granite to grouse, boreal forests to bacterium, volcanoes to viruses.
Many points of being. I so desperately want the full pointillistic picture to be one of beauty.
This blog was started a couple of weeks ago, when the leaves were still chartreuse and small against the sky. The leaves are bigger and darker now and the deaths in the US from Covid-19 have surpassed 100,000. But the enumeration of thousands of names on the front page of a newspaper has been eclipsed by one name – George Floyd – whose death was not in a hospital bed surrounded by medical personnel dedicated to helping him breath, but by police officers cutting off his breath. (Please note the “s” on officers.)
I am a white woman of privilege and I do not pretend to understand the poison of racism that seems to flow in the blood of all human beings. Like the virus, it affects us all differently, both in how we treat others and in how we see ourselves. I am not sure if there will ever be a vaccine. I do know that many good people over many, many years are trying very hard to discover treatments that help minimize the effects.
I also know that fire destroying businesses already gravely stressed by the Covid-19 lockdown, like the only local grocery store available in a food desert, will do nothing to help the mindset of officers like those that killed George Floyd. Sadly, the violence has overshadowed the death of the person known as George Floyd. His pixel of light is being subsumed in the flames. I find that part very sad.
The black man most revered by this nation was so very clear: violence begets violence. He knew that the poison of racism could only be countered by the antidote of love and compassion. Yes, I know, easy for white me to say, from my secure home in the middle of fields, looking toward mountain tops. But that is what my faith has taught me. And my faith tells me that, just as God accompanies me in her most enveloping form, a Spirit of truth and love, she has imbued the world with compassion over the past few months. As always, we are in the midst of becoming. Always becoming an image of beauty, as pixels of love combine in new understandings, new connections, building better, to nourish subsequent generations to come.