November blusters in Whitmore Lake. It's the season of books and tea, rum punch and scarf-wearing. Darkness sets in early. The rain and wind sweep across my roof. The world becomes insular as weather stretches distances. Basho understood this in his haiku, the way a season can separate people–––
Autumn deepening –
how does he live, I wonder?
And yet there are letters from friends, books from a long way off, music and cheer and company. And from time to time, a word from you, dear reader.
I was perplexed to find a Braille edition of Playboy while rummaging at Kaleidoscope Books in Ann Arbor some months ago. And last night, stumbling across the Buzzfeed headline The Braille Edition of Playboy Is Now Available Online, these lines of Cavafy occurred to me
how much of the pathos, the yearning of our race, how much weariness these nine tragic words contain.
For the last weeks, the news has been dominated by stories of the outbreak of Ebola virus in West Africa and its subsequent spread to limited areas of Europe and America. One of the reasons, I think Ebola has captured so much public attention (besides its horrific symptoms and high mortality rate) is that it exposes the interdependence of our systems and the interconnectedness of the world. An outbreak of a disease in Africa doesn't stay in Africa anymore. It travels via plane, train, and automobile. It can spread and infect, crossing borders and entering new circles of connectivity. This sort of issue and its accompanying anxiety goes well beyond a medical threat. The 2008 breakdown of the global financial markets spread in much the way of virus might. Describing bank failure, the news used the word infection.
So much of life is now at the mercy of global forces and systems. On any given day, I might eat a nectarine from Chile, receive a wire transfer from my magazine in England, or chat with a friend in Sydney. Everything I do or think is fair game for a Facebook post that will be shared with 1000+ friends. If I want strawberries in January, I don't have to wait until the season. I can hop on a plane and be in Brest or Berlin in half a day. Social media gives me windows (well-dressed ones) into other people's lives, importing dissatisfaction and the sense that there is something else better out there than what I'm doing, someone better than who I'm with. It can be hard for me at times feel anchored, to feel engaged with the people in my life. Lately I've been thinking about all this, wondering what place love has in this time of Ebola.
My answer — love is local. It supersedes the banks of computer scattered around the world that are involved in the simplest debit card transaction. It gives value perspective to the litany of likes one might receive on a Facebook post. It draws us back to the present moment and present location. There is no FOMO in love. Like John Donne says: love, all love of other sights controls, / and makes one little room an everywhere. Love can't cure Ebola, but it can bring us back to ourselves and to the present moment and can make this strange, overpopulated, beautiful world of ours more habitable and make us inhabit it more fully.
Today I taught my students the myth of Isis and Osiris from Egypt, a story of jealousy, murder, and resurrection. In the back of my head as I read: how the names from this story have been appropriated for new purposes in this brave and strange new world of ours.