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Jim O'Brien: I am cautiously optimistic that we will emerge to a better world post-Covid


Even on a breezy day the ventilation slits on my windows can cause the wind to moan menacingly, creating sounds that wouldn't be out of place in the opening scene of Macbeth.

As I sat down to write this, a wailing east wind provided an appropriate backdrop to the hubble, bubble toil and trouble of the times we are in.

The health gurus are warning us to remain shut down, while the wizards of wealth are calling for things to be opened up. There's a lot of fear swirling around the vast space between the two poles.

One thing the pandemic has done for me is put me in touch with my innate optimism. I'm optimistic that a vaccine will be found, I'm optimistic that it will be distributed quickly on a global scale, I'm optimistic that in the intervening period most countries will manage to contain the virus. That being said, what is happening in nursing homes is far from encouraging.

It is clear that the world to emerge from the crisis will be different from the world that entered it, and I am cautiously optimistic that it will be better. I am cautiously optimistic that we will not go back to the way we were.

For too many people, this virus has changed everything. By the time it is over the island of Ireland could see 3,000 dead. Six months of the virus could exceed the death toll from 30 years of the Troubles.

This loss of life is enormous, not to mention the pain and trauma of those left to grieve, a grief exacerbated by the absence of the traditional Irish funeral, where a gentle squeeze of the elbow, a nod of the head and a warm hand on the side of your face can ease the weight of the pain.

Those not so traumatically affected may have more positive stories to tell at the end of it, stories that could benefit us all; the well, the worn-out, the grieving and the lost.

In the course of the shutdown I have spoken to men and women who are martyrs to hard work, who never have enough hours to do what they do. Most of them have had epiphanies in relation to their quality of life, finding themselves with time for the things their hectic schedules had heretofore put beyond the self-imposed boundaries of possibility.

Those who couldn't 'make time' to play with the children, go for a daily walk, read that book, paint that gate, listen to that podcast or write that letter have suddenly found that time has been made for them.

A friend of mine whose business has fallen of the proverbial cliff tells me has never been more content, and while he can wake at night with worry, he quickly realises that, right now, there is nothing he can do about it so he just continues to enjoy 'the moment' for as long as it may last.

Am I foolish to believe that people will now have the courage to continue to make that time for themselves and not be dependent on external factors to make it for them?

The positive effect of the global shutdown on the state of the planet is mirrored in the positive effect on the quality of many people's lives. It must also be remembered that the experience has been deeply painful for people in abusive relationships and citizens of countries with poor health systems and social security.


Notwithstanding that, I am cautiously optimistic that the wisdom and perspective gained across the globe by people during the crisis will not be lost.

Am I too optimistic to hope that enough people will be willing to shake off the shackles of consumerism and will face down the insatiable growth-promoters and the manic marketeers?

Perhaps those of us resting secure behind the lines during this pandemic, who have been afforded unique opportunities to reflect on how we live our lives, will apply the precious lessons we have learned and build a better society for all.

It will be an enduring and transformative gift to those who didn't have these opportunities and who risked life and limb for us on the front line.

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