gret heffernan

on being civilised during covid-19

So, here we are, faced with the end of one way and the beginning of another where nature, since time immemorial, has summoned her phoenix of a question – Who are We?

Not our normal preoccupied airwave of Who are You or Who am I? But. Who are We?

I think about this often. That is the job of a writer.
And, it has always been my understanding, that the markers of our evolutionary shift from animalistic to civilised being were early evidence of language and art.

Well, today I found out that I’ve been wrong.
Civilisation is not seeded by art or language or wisdom.
Of course, creativity has recorded the trajectory of our societal development, but the modern idea that we hold of ourselves as a civilised We had a less glamorous origin –

A healed femur.

A broken leg to a prehistoric human would have meant certain death. They couldn’t hunt, gather, carry their belongings, or walk long nomadic miles. Under those conditions, a broken bone would take months to heal, if ever, and that member would be ultimately weakened.

Just think of the measures the tribe would have to take to help this person survive.

And afterwards, how the tribe would have to accommodate the person’s new role.

It would make animalistic sense, even logical sense, to let them die. What does it mean when we collectively decide against this?

It means that survival, not for the fittest, but for the broken will determine the measure of our civilisation.

It means that We have an opportunity to move our species forward and become something new, something we may never see, but have to believe in, like faith.

And, if healing the fatal blows of our fellow tribal members can catapult us into a modern, organised society, what happens when we collectively obey, or even support, policies that ignore the broken – of spirit, of health, of finance – do we regress? Does leaving behind the broken mark the end of civilisation?

We seldom see the ultimate shape of our decisions, which is why we must choose to benefit the whole, especially for those who have no access to choice.

The world is closing down. Businesses and lives and livelihoods will be lost and shattered.

Fear will be used to change rules, governments, ideologies. Fear will be used to disguise new gains for the few.

While the masses of us sit in isolation, strangely, more connected than ever before, because emergency cuts through the superfluous and there is suddenly time to think about where We are headed, to consider our personal role in that universal direction.

This surplus of time is a gift. Do not distract yourself from your power because all things, until they are stopped or rewritten, remain circular, and we are overlapping with those early humans now.

So, I ask again – Who are We?

And, if we are unhappy with the answers we hear –

What should We do about it?

© Gret Heffernan

Gret Heffernan is the author of The Sculptor and Dark Ansley I and II. Her lyric essay, ‘Redneck’, is due for podcast publication in June 2020. She is the founder and editor of Backlash Press, member of the arts collective Edgeland Modern, and host of podcast shows Sketchbook/Notebook and Composed. Her poetry has been published widely in journals, including Agni and Brittle Star.