There’s a point in the book “Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold” by Stephen Fry when he writes about Zeus complaining about being “cosmically lonely” — sitting on his throne like the god that he is, and all he does is grant wishes to people and listen to their problems.
He then brainstorms the idea with the Titan Prometheus to create a species “lesser than the gods,” and that turns out to be us.
Anyway, Greek mythology aside — although I’m finding so many parallels in the stories with what’s happening now; the bit about Hermes, the god of trade and travel, is especially interesting and I wonder what he would think of Covid-19 and what it’s done to his domain — I sense a lot of “cosmic loneliness” in the world right now.
A world that got decidedly lonelier for us in Singapore this week when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that we would have to stay home with tighter restrictions till June 1 (extended from May 4). The tighter restrictions mean a few more “essential services” closed — I didn’t realize hairdressers were an essential service until the announcement — and when going out for groceries, we should go alone, and when exercising, we should walk or run alone.
It really shows how quickly fortunes can change. There we were, the model kid in class that was doing so well at the start, and then, kapow, we are at the back of the class and wondering how we got there. But ours not to reason why, ours but to do and obey because it’s the right thing to do for the greater good. The sooner we can knock this thing on its head, the better for everyone.
So now we can only look on with a mixture of envy and delight as our friends in China, South Korea and Taiwan take their first steps to some form of normalcy, popular beaches in Sydney reopen and New Zealand lowers its alert to Level Three. They represent our future, and we look at them with longing and hope.
I say “cosmic loneliness” because everyone keeps saying we shouldn’t be lonely because we are not alone — “we are all in this together” — but it sure does feel lonely at times.
I was speaking to my friend in Cardiff, Wales, who has not been able to leave her house for weeks because she’s in the “elderly and vulnerable category,” and she confesses to loneliness settling in. She’s lived alone most of her life, and this is the first time she has said to me that she’s lonely.
She misses her visits to the grocer and hairdresser and visits from family and friends.
I sent her a pile of books from the Book Depository, including “Mythos” and “The Splendid And The Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family and Defiance During the Blitz” (Eric Larson), thinking these will cheer her up. It’s interesting, the book choices we are making in these days to console ourselves that things could be worse. For example, bombs could be raining from the skies night after night, as they did during the Blitz, and that gods could be eating babies or hurling them down into the ocean, as they please.
I never thought I’d say it, but I actually miss crowds. I remember when I was living in Hong Kong and how irritated I’d get with the crowds at lunchtime in Causeway Bay. Now I wish I was back there, jostling with everyone and having umbrellas poked in my face.
I looked at a photo someone posted of people in Shanghai eating at a Shake Shack, and even though I’ve never gotten the shakes about its burger, I find myself longing for one and to be sitting with people, munching and talking loudly.
I even miss the inside of an airplane. My goddaughter tells me that’s because I only fly in the front end, but honestly, I miss the way an aircraft cabin smells, the way we have to stow our bags in the overhead compartment, the way we have to sit and be strapped in for takeoff, the way the attendants tell us to mind our safety — I promise to, from now on, pay attention.
In commiseration with my extended sentence, my Australian friend called to cheer me up and promised me a road trip, one we’ve been talking about for a while. “Do you drive?” she asked. “No,” I said.
“That’s good, because I need to be the one driving,” she said. She’s more of control freak than I am.
I miss being on the road. Every morning, I look out of my window and see the empty road. It’s usually pounding with construction and filled with cars whizzing by. Now I see Emma, a domestic helper with her black mask on, walking her black dog, Choco. Even Choco, who’s the happiest Labrador alive, looks forlorn, like he knows this isn’t normal. He probably misses his friends, too, because he’s not allowed to socialize, as well.
I miss my walks along the Seine and Thames. I miss meandering through the canals of Amsterdam and Bruges, Belgium. I miss the parks of New York, London and Stockholm. I miss Iceland’s glaciers. I even miss its blustery, freezing winds. I miss the seafood in Madrid. I miss the tea plantations and wildlife of Assam state in India. I miss the river journeys on the Brahmaputra and the Douro. I miss the white sand beaches of Cempedak, Indonesia. I miss being in the forests of Karuizawa, Japan.
I miss my dinners all over the world with friends from all over the world.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not alone. I am grateful to live in a lovely home with two wonderful people and two gorgeous dogs. My neighbor bakes me bread and sends over laksa when he’s in the mood to cook. Occasionally, I get deliveries from friends who fear my starvation. This week, I am expecting a hotel to deliver me roast chicken because they want to tell me they care.
I am on video calls most of the day. I write. I host webinars. I hold weekly meetings with the team. We motivate each other. I have never been busier. It’s rather liberating working for nothing. We try and plan for a future that is unknown, and we take little steps toward that future.
I miss Greece. In his interview with James Corden, author Yuval Noah Harari praised Greece for its efforts in containing Covid-19 and said he’d rather Greece lead the world right now than the U.S.
Harari also said no crisis ever changed human nature. The plague did not, the two world wars did not, the Depression did not. Neither will this.
Zeus would agree. So let’s all embrace our “cosmic loneliness” during this time, think of all the things we miss and make sure we get out there and do all of them again, soon as we can.
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