By Alasdair Crosby
There are two pandemics now affecting us all. Both of them, in their way, are potentially deadly. The first, coronavirus, we all know about. I do not want to underestimate its effects, or to undervalue those who are doing their utmost to fight it, or to disparage the measures undertaken to limit its occurrence as much as possible.
There is also a second pandemic abroad, coronaphobia – a fear of what, in the biblical phrase, ‘prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour’.
Some of us may be fortunate and privileged enough to avoid the first pandemic or only to suffer mild symptoms; few if any of us will escape the effects of the second.
It is an enfeebling fear not just of contracting the disease, but also of the dislocation suffered by us in recent times by our familiar and traditional culture; the attacks on our history, the attacks on normality, on the family, on freedom of thought and expression… it is a pandemic that has raced around the world this past year and kept us, metaphorically at least, all in self-isolated lockdown.
It is said that Achilles, the hero of the Trojan Wars, was given a choice by his mother, the river-nymph Thetis, of a short life that that would blaze with glory and keep his reputation immortal for ever, or a long, uneventful, comfortable life at home that would end in insignificance and oblivion. Of course, he chose the former. What Achilles would have said to the advice: ‘Stay home; keep safe’ might not bear repetition in print.
There may be every prudent reason to avoid physical contact within our community, but it is nevertheless a sadness that our culture is going the wrong way entirely, increasingly jettisoning the real for the virtual, social intercourse for social media and friendship for Friends on Facebook.
Sad as well is the item that sums up our collective experience of 2020: the mask. The mask has always been a symbol of disguise and insincerity – I can only think of Zorro and The Lone Ranger as positive examples of mask wearers. Otherwise we use phrases such as ‘the mask of friendship’ or ‘masking our true feelings’; there is the Eric Ambler thriller title ‘The Mask of Demetrius’; the face of that supposedly cunning and deceitful animal, the fox, is properly called its ‘mask’.
Now we are all mask wearers and it is all our everyday experiences to note how much of a person’s appearance and character – in addition to the face – is hidden by a mask and how much non-verbal communication is lost when wearing one.
Conversely, we have the positive symbols of ‘open faced’ lack of guile, and the ultimate reward of Christians, the beatific vision of ‘the Face of God’.
Roll on Christmas time, when the very first of the daffodils will be blooming in Jersey’s fields and hedgerows; even now, the first tiny green shoots can just be seen. A sign, literally, of the eventual return of spring and the hope of a relaxation of restrictions and vaccine availability to aid a partial defeat of coronavirus – and more generally, the hope of a defeat of coronaphobia through the return of the Unconquered Sun.