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Of Pandemics and Artistry


Of pandemics and cures

“We’re all a part of God’s great big family…

…okay here’s your part nunu, love is all we need!”.

“You’re confusing me” she protests. We are rehearsing for a class video of the kids singing ‘We Are The World’ as an act of unity or defiance against the infamous bat made pandemic. It has been four long weeks of this wrestling match. I push, she pulls, I signal for her to begin, she stammers through the melody, we very seldom find harmony. Lockdown has been a baptism of fire for me, I have been asked to be a tutor to my two children. Where it has been a joy to watch my 12-year-old son take to the online classes and Microsoft teams like a fish to water, for my daughter though, those same waters have proven to be as challenging as croc-infested Serengeti crossings. At 6 years old she needs constant parental supervision, not to mention it is a full-time job policing the acts of artifice her boundless energy contrives. If I move away to deal with a phone call, you’ll hear reports she was last seen riding the Pitbull. On a video call with the teacher, when that’s done she will be knee-deep in episode 3 of Netflix’s Investigators. All this has made for frequent mercurial mood swings and blowouts throughout the house. Mostly from me but there is always a chorus of dissatisfaction echoing through the corridors. The wife loudly ordering my son around, unhappy with his lethargy. The grandmother radioing for assistance with the latest domestic project; the post-retirement waltz. Or you might even hear the dog annoyingly sounding off at what he must perceive as good old roll call.

I try to stay away from the philosophical discussions around what this time means or may come to mean for all of us in the world. I set a time for studio, exercise, homework, cigar-smoking, Zoom calls, sleep, showers, walks and bubbly. We have made a deliberate choice to live in the moment, the showers are longer, savoured, appreciated. The glaring irony here is this is exactly what a philosophical approach is, innit? The meals are planned, researched, prepped, then critiqued together. We repeat-watch movies, same scene, new moment, new memory, this time we are sprawled across the TV room half asleep. The yard sounds different at 2am. I know which sounds to ignore and which sounds to explore, the rustling of the trees usually means bird nest deliveries. A softer sound is followed by a descending leaf in graceful glide taking its final bow. Anything louder would probably rouse the dog. COVID-19 has turned us all into sprouting epistemologists, looking for meaning in every little minute detail. Drinking cognac and looking back at the glass like it uttered something to you. Staring at the mirror after meals, shirtless, Eish! My wife daily seesaws on the scale, we are transfixed by an anatomic curiosity. This has been lockdown for us. My family and I’s response to the threat of death has been to concern ourselves with the integrality of life.

Then the shit just went on and on. I did Freestyles every Friday, more zoom meetings and re-recorded ‘We Are The World’ this time with full outfit changes. When rewatching the original of that song I took notice of the lyrics “We are all part of God’s great big family” first sung by Tina Turner and then Mary J Blige in the less popular refashioned version. I’m taken aback that this part is sung by two survivors of highly publicized abusive relationships. Legendary artists sadly also onetime victims. This is my daughter’s part? God forbid.

“Let’s do it Daddy!” My daughter gallingly orders. I can’t snap out of the chill, she is nervous and self aware but oblivious to the jolt of pain arresting my heart. She can’t spot it on my face, she is no match for my daddy mask; The automated facial illusion made to hide concern from kids. Why burden them with the trepidations of a triggered adult.

“Ah Daddy!” No less persuasive.

“God’s great big family is in trouble baby” I murmur.

When Paris gets attacked by terrorists, we can all tweet our prayers and hashtags. When earthquakes decimate Sendai we show solidarity through cool innovative ways. I remember being part of a well thought out fundraising effort for victims. We reach out to help others. The Corona Virus has been the great equalizer. All are victims, we are the others, we are all scared, confused, all need donations, the online stars cling to TikTok as ‘forget me not’ reminders, tone-deaf celebrities preach from ivory towers, rappers rap, hustlers sell masks, the poor lineup for food, the jobless wait, the quarantined find inspiration in music until the ephemeral attention span is eclipsed with every random death. Mine isn’t some unique account or experience of this significant moment in recent history. Most people have a similar take. How bizarre. There are heroes in hospitals and leadership who face off with the odds daily but ultimately we are asked to save ourselves. To be like Tina and Mary singing less for Africa and more for themselves, singing the lyrics that outshined the tragic narrative of the author’s life, Michael Jackson’s life. The school is asking the kids to sing for themselves, to hopefully watch the complete song and see each other again as they once were or hope to be again. A melange of sanguine sprogs. I am rescued by the declarative lyrics “love is all we need!” she hits the note and waits in the afterglow of the accomplishment. I have a never-ending cache of these memories; when an artist hits the note or sticks the landing on a moment. Milliseconds before the applause, time stalls the hurtling momentum. She is waiting for my response. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”

What lies within me at this exact moment is staring me blankly.

I must have given my daughter an unsatisfactory wordless answer because she reached for the remote and started rewinding the song. I pray for what happens next for all of us, but as of right now, God’s great big family must wait, madame wants to run it one more time. 

Stogie T

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