There’s this quiet whisper in my heart, ‘be well, be happy’. I only hear it late at night, breathing out in this new-found familiar strangeness. Or I hear it as I end a Skype or a Zoom or a Facetime, with a stab of missing the person I’ve only just seen and heard, not touched. Or watching the news (hard to turn off).
‘Be well, be happy’. Far flung friends and family, once met work mates, long lost loves, nurses with only a plastic apron between them and their fevered patients.
‘Be well, be happy’. I hear it in the chirping of the sparrows, the throaty call of the wood pigeon, the starling’s love song at dusk and the buzzing of the bee in the hibiscus, noisy in this much-silenced, used to be bustling city.
‘Be well, be happy’ as we learn all these clunky terms: ‘shielding’, ‘social distancing’, ‘self-isolating’, ‘lockdown’. They sound like words of war in times of peace. Covid-19 isn’t the enemy, it, too, simply wants to reproduce itself.
‘Be well, be happy’. I pray to the ancestors with gratitude. I want to know how they survived, now I understand a fraction of their uncertainty, of their joys and sorrows. I don’t want to let them down, neither do I want to fall into heroic speak.
‘Be well, be happy’ as the long-ago griefs slide back in, yesterday is today again. Time and space are disorienting tricksters in these four walls and I wake with tears rolling down my cheeks. Fabulously contagious love, like a virus, roams from New York to Colorado, from India to continental Europe, returning to Somerset – home – which may as well be a million miles away.
‘Be well, be happy’. As the day breaks in this most heart-wrenching of exquisite springs all is still – at first. Then the jolt and sudden remembrance that all is not right, the same jolt as at the start of a new day after the loss of a love, the love never forgotten, the jolt accommodated in the rings of our tree-like bodies.
‘Be well, be happy’. I cup your hands in mine. I draw you close. I stand with you, shoulder to shoulder. I listen to your body in mine, our bodies no longer foreign, no longer distanced in some dystopian nightmare.
‘Be well, be happy’ as we face the fact of no return to ‘normal’. Normal was crisis, normal was inequality, normal was extinction, normal was oppression. But the normal was largely only named by those with no voice, at the heart of the suffering.
‘Be well, be happy’ in this quiet, sometimes stillness, these voices – their whispers – can finally be heard, on the newly sweet, blossom-scented city air.
‘Be well, be happy’ for, hijacked clichés aside, we really are all in this together. As we survive and re-emerge, maybe with greater clarity and more compassion for the preciousness of this breath – your breath, mine, and the beating of the earth – we’ll catch a glance of the invisible threads holding us together, keeping us alive. All of the threads: trade deals, hugs, promises, familiar fears, mycelium, and proteins looking for a home to reproduce.
‘Be well, be happy’. It’s a whisper in my heart. It’s all I’ve got. There are no loud, confident proclamations, no bells and whistles, no crystal ball reassurances. I keep whispering.
NB this letter was included in the live-streaming of letters to the earth for Earth Day 2020 on 22nd April organised by Culture Declares Emergency. To hear this letter read (beautifully!) aloud by Sudha Buchar see the youtube recording. ‘Be well, be happy’ is 11 minutes and 45 seconds into this recording – although they’re all well worth a listen. Happy Earth Day.