My Grandfather was a coal man in the years between the two world wars. If you flew up in a plane and peered down, to look at the country side he lived in, it would have resembled a tapestry or quilt; a “drunkards path” of small towns, crisscrossed by myriad fields, hedgerows and occasional outlying farmhouses. All of which were stitched together by ribbon threads of meandering narrow roadways.
The people who lived under that quilt were, for the most part, people who were born, grew up and died all within that same small area. There were others though, “foreigners”, Frenchmen and even German prisoners who had elected to stay instead of returning home. They were treated quite reasonably by most people. They fitted comfortably into the quilt as farm hands and labourers. They added colour, strength, warmth and diversity to the quilt. The quilt evolved into its own pattern along with the people who sheltered beneath it.
There weren’t too many other men around. Husbands, brothers, fathers and sons were in short supply. The country was in a state of flux. The old order had crumbled, traditions had been eroded and the countries’ faith in empire, royalty, loyalty and other such silly, abstract and ethereal social concepts had all but evaporated in the bomb blasts and carnage of the trenches.
The stitches in the quilt of that new “modernity” were small and sewn much closer together. Blue thread, green thread, cotton or taffeta; Foreign, French, German or whatever, they used what they had, what was available and what was handed down or over to them. It made no difference to the finished quilt. The quilt worked well regardless of what it was made of. It protected them from the world and kept them warm on the brittle cold nights when the metaphorical icicles of a threatening world surrounded them. Their new (modernist) social tenets and mores were based on what worked locally, individually and for the immediate community. There was no time for politics, xenophobia, greed and global economic concerns.
This new philosophy came in very handy when the 1917 flu pandemic struck. Everyone was in it together and there was no time to lay blame or invent new enemies. It was a catastrophe. Millions of people died all over the world. But, when the pandemic was over, the world had found a new strength in unity. They had found that it was only together that they could survive and that, wherever you came from, if you could help to fill the massive holes left in the quilt by war and disease, then you were welcome.
My Grandfather’s quilt is presently undergoing a bit of a rough time. The stitching is coming undone. Instead of welcoming each other and learning how to live together we are now shutting the doors, closing the borders and bolting the gates. Anyone who is “different” or alien, or who wasn’t an original part of the pattern, is now excluded and put on the “scraps” pile or passed down as a “UFO” project ( “Unfinished Object”…quilting lingo for “stuff it back in the drawer until we get bored and need something different to do”.)
Refugees and would be immigrants are now held in camps on unyielding borders both in far off countries and in our own country. They are being held in conditions that can only proliferate the spread (and the death rate) of the Coronavirus pandemic. Millions of people locked away from the quilting table, locked in the drawer for “UFO’S” or placed on the pile of scraps to be dealt with (hopefully) by someone else. Anywhere that doesn’t involve doing something with them; anywhere that doesn’t involve making use of them for our own quilt.
My Grandfather’s quilt is coming apart, the thread is starting to rot and there is a hidden threat to our existence that no one seems to have noticed. The culprit is not the novel coronavirus pandemic. That is serious, very serious, but it is the way in which it is being dealt with that is the real threat.
When the WHO named it a “pandemic” they did so to explain to people that it is a global problem. That it is a problem that can only be solved by the united efforts of ALL of the world’s countries. And yet all I hear lately is “The safety and health of our (stick your own country name in here) citizens is our greatest concern. We will be using all of our resources to ensure our citizens are protected. Etc etc…”
So what happens after the virus goes away? Because once we have erected the barricades, closed the borders and reinvigorated the old tribal mentality of “Us and Them”, it will have given the xenophobes and the nationalists all the power that they will ever need to continue to thrive and grow. That, to me at least, seems to be a greater threat than the Covid19 virus? When the president of the so called “greatest power in the world” talks openly about “Foreign diseases” and refuses to accept the internationally offered “testing kits” in favour of waiting for his own factories to produce them (at the cost of allowing the disease to proliferate across his country)..Well, doesn’t that smack of xenophobia and tribalism to you? I think it’s time to put a little oil on the sewing machine. I think it’s time to drag out my grandfather’s quilt from the UFO drawer and give it a bit of attention.
Wash your hands, do your social distancing by all means, but perhaps spare a thought for what kind of a post virus, barbed wire fenced world you might be living in? Perhaps Mother Nature is smarter than we have given her credit for. Because, scattered among the poverty stricken, disenfranchised and grieving survivors of this pandemic, she might just have planted the seeds of a discontent that could begin the downfall of her greatest enemy….Mankind.