It’s February 2022 and its been a long lonely road, as they say. Covid-19 has sent our world reeling. For me, the last two years has provided an opportunity to return, for a while, to my profession as a lecturer working online at a local university. Three vaccines later and a lot of time sitting in a virtual classroom, I am again ready to view the world in my own unique way and I hope you will take the time to join me on my travels both at home and away.
There’s no time like the ambiguous present
Shirley Just Writes. Sounds simple, but, anyone who just writes will tell you its not that easy, especially in these strange times. Many of us feel we are living in limbo, waiting for life to return to normal. I know I am. Even when they tell us it’s safe to go about our business, we only half believe them. There are many people who are still reluctant to leave the house, even to visit the local supermarket. The world has become a shrunken and alien place. But recently I read a book by Dr Pauline Boss, (2021) and she has completely turned my world around. The book primarily focuses on the losses endured during the pandemic: not just the human losses but the ambiguous losses that we have all grieved, such as loss of freedom during lockdowns, loss of employment, family gatherings, birthday celebrations, loss of normality and control, and cruelest of all losses, of the right to say goodbye to loved ones who died from Covid-19.
There have been many heroic deeds over the past two years by doctors, nurses and ordinarily citizens doing extraordinary things in the face of adversity. But we also endure divisions as well as communal acts of kindness. I have grieved the loss of the freedom to visit my home in France when ever I chose. The double whammy of Brexit and travel restrictions plunged me into despair. I have felt my loss desperately, but it would be wrong to expect empathy from people who don’t own property in Europe. Why would they worry about this? I still have my health and anyway they have their own losses to deal with. But its divisive nevertheless, it sets us apart in our grief. Dr Boss’s words taught me that whilst the context of Covid-19 is different for lots of us. feelings of ambiguous loss are universally felt. My loss of control and freedom to roam around made me upset, confused and isolated even within my own family and friendship circles. To my dismay, my advancing years were called out during the pandemic too. I became someone who should be shielded, kept safe from the outside world. I lost the person I was before.
The pandemic has dealt us all a deadly blow, to our mental and physical health, to our economy and to our personal freedoms. There is no closure. We can’t say goodbye, good riddance. So we go forward carrying our losses into a new normal. For me 2022 will be the year when I accept that things are not likely to change in the foreseeable future and that whilst we all deal with the pandemic in our own unique ways, we are indeed all in it together. So I will rise to the occasion and in this I know I will not be alone. There is still a world to explore out there and it isn’t waiting for the pandemic to end and neither should we. There are journeys to be had, be it in the safety of our back yards, within our communities, out in the wider world; or even, just in our heads.
Before the Covid-19 virus stopped us dead in our tracks, I took a trip to Birmingham Art Gallery. I grew up in Birmingham and have visited the museum many times. But on this occasion, I took my time and really studied the Pre-Raphaelite art exhibition. I’d learned a bit about this subject whilst at university. So as I sat there gazing at the Rossetti painting, Proserpina, I realised I’d only travelled a short distance, some twenty odd miles, and here I was, in the ghostly presence of a famous artist. This was the real thing. Not a photo in a book. I could see Rossetti’s brush strokes, every detail of the woman’s robe. I was no longer in Birmingham, I’d travelled back to the 19th century and I wondered about this sad looking woman in the painting.
In Greek mythology, Proserpina was the wife of Hades, the God of the Underworld. In Rossetti’s painting we see more than his image of the Greek Goddess, we meet a woman trapped in the contemporary world of the 19th century. This Proserpina has no Goddess like powers, she exists through Rossetti’s pre-Raphaelite gaze only. Her shock of flaming red hair dominates the painting: red for temptress, red for seduction. She holds a pomegranate, a symbol of fertility and yet judging by the position of her right hand, it seems that this symbol of womanhood is a heavy burden. Is this because Proserpina is trapped within a century that allows women no freedoms, no rights, no voice, not even the right to keep her own children should her husband divorce her? The trails of ivy symbolize her entrapment. Her rather sullen looking expression speaks volumes. Her fate is sealed, as much in 19th century as it was in Greek mythology.
Isn’t [time] travel wonderful? Speak soon!
P.Boss (2021) The Myth of Closure, London, Blackstone Publishing