SOUTHSIDE STORIES

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At the End of the Tunnel

by Dakshina Gammanpila

A new year is time to reflect on what has passed and look ahead at things to come. It seemed to many that the stroke of midnight on December 31st would herald a seismic shift; to sweep away the horrendous debris of 2020 and welcome in a bright sparkly 2021, free from sorrow and constraint. Life doesn’t quite work like that and, despite our hopes and dreams, we know that. And, like hopes and dreams realizing them requires some input of our own. We cannot abdicate responsibility wishing that change for the better will magically materialize. The genie in that particular lamp is surely taking a nap, exhausted by 2020s turn of events.

Meeting the new year realistically involves managing our expectations and resolving to do our part. Driving down country lanes past names that comically echo the past four years Bedlam Avenue, Lewd Close and plain old Crazy Lane (I kid you not!) I have seen mountains of post Christmas packaging piled up in rural gardens with the logo of a card board rictus grin (you know the company I mean) awaiting incineration on 10 foot tall bonfires, rivalling any Guy Fawkes plot. Some of the visible detritus of the end of 2020 festivities may be gone, but the pandemic and the politics rumble on. So how can we influence a change?

Many New Year resolutions fail because sloughing off procrastination is a challenge. We just have too high expectations of ourselves and others and are hamstrung from the outset. Added to that, this particular New Year we are already exhausted by facing up to challenges. Ushering in a new era is hard work and we build it up so much in our minds. We must acknowledge that.

I have been an avid follower of US politics both as an interest and an academic discipline. From the age of 16 I studied and took exams in US and British politics and conducted a comparative study of the two systems for my law degree thesis. When I see what has occurred in recent years and read the recent headline ‘Demockracy’ I feel a heavy sense of loss and dread. Looking back to Remembrance Day, a few months ago it seems we all too quickly forget the sacrifices made not only by different generations and times so that we may take our freedoms and rights for granted, but also those who are laying their lives on the line right here right now and are at breaking point.

When Joe Biden becomes the 46th President he has no magic wand. He is going to need a great deal more and that comes from the people, the electorate, whether they voted for him or not. It calls to mind the words of the 35th President, JFK at his inauguration on January 20th1961 – exactly 60 years to the day of Biden’s new dawn – ‘that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival of liberty…ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’ Mingled with the hope of a better future of unity is a desperation, that bridges must be built that wounds have to be healed and fast.

Writing this on the 18th a few days before the inauguration, the theme of which is America United, I wonder what the next few days will bring. On the 19th there will be a commemoration in honour of over 385,000 people who lost their lives to the Coronavirus in the US. Such ‘a national moment of remembrance and unity’ seems essential. An acknowledgement of what the Nation, (and we can include many nations still beset by the pandemic), has gone through and the divisions highlighted.

We undoubtedly owe a debt of gratitude to the scientists and health professionals -surely one way to honour that sacrifice is to do our part and that to do otherwise is an insult that no amount of pot banging, petal dropping, or applause can mitigate.

The same is true of the vaccine seeing that the end is in sight but fast forwarding as if all of us had already been vaccinated. As if we had simultaneously swallowed a magic pill (or in this case had been administered a vital injection on Life Row); despite the fact that there is a huge lag in roll-out, that frontline workers and health professionals as well as the elderly and most medically vulnerable have yet to receive their call up letter let alone their initial dose. In the meantime, we have to keep on keeping on.

Taking our foot off the brake of individual accountability and blaming others is poor citizenship. We need to ask ourselves are we doing our part, have we delayed the gratification of seeing friends and family over the festive season, washed hands assiduously, worn masks stayed at home or at a safe distance? If not, why? Because we see our sense of freedom as higher than someone else’s? Politics and media though undoubtedly culpable, are not the only ones at fault.

I recently saw a wonderful nature documentary narrated by the superlative Sir David Attenborough (not the first time he has been mentioned in this column) whose broadcasts keep the nation sane. We viewed a colony of fire ants who in order to survive when their nest was flooded during the Amazonian rains, form a floating island constructed of nothing but themselves linked together. All are on board the Queen, larvae, workers, soldiers. If one falls and risks being drowned or devoured, they are rescued. The loss of one is a loss to all. No ant, not a single one, gets left behind. 

The message of community is simple: that we are all linked, and our actions have repercussions on others No man (or seemingly single ant) is an island.

The pandemic and the insurrection on Capitol Hill show how divided and individualistic we can be as a species. Not willing to heed the advice of government and scientists to make things right but willing and waiting to throw them under the bus when things go wrong. And go wrong they most certainly have. Unlike the ants we have created or acquiesced to sailing on a ship of fools. It is clear that we have a lot to learn and that the wisdom of ants may be the light at the end of this long, seemingly never-ending tunnel. Time, as always, will tell.

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