I am not going to lie woke up this morning feeling a bit gutted when I heard the news that the vaccine, I only had last week might not work. Suddenly summer freedom seemed a long way off. Will I ever get a hug again? I know a bit dramatic but honestly, I have tried hard to remain positive throughout but today – well I think it is going to have to be a duvet day.
It did though get me thinking about freedom and what it means. And I dug out my old philosophy books and looked at Jean Paul Sartre who back in the day was one of my heroes. Of course, I have now forgotten everything he said.
But he had an interesting take on freedom, and I wonder what he would be pronouncing about today’s situation. On life during World War 2 he said – and obviously, I am not equating the trials of living under Nazi occupation with living with the scourge of COVID-19. ‘Never were we freer than under the German occupation.’ He believed that it is only when we are physically stopped from acting that we fully realise the true extent and nature of our freedom. If he is right and with my glass half full hat on – see I am trying – the pandemic is an opportunity to relearn what it means to be free.
Right now, we are free just ‘to be.’ So, has the pandemic liberated many of us? We no longer have to make so many decisions about how we live our life, who we should meet up with, who we have not seen for a while, places we have not been, restaurants we haven’t visited, concerts we haven’t attended and so on.
I have begun to reflect on how many things I did just because they were there. How perhaps I was going along with what others wanted me to do or expected me to do. We all live in a fast -paced consumer society with endless options and truly little of what we or maybe I did was because of a considered decision. Maybe doing exactly what we want but without too much thought is not a very valuable freedom.
Today apart – as I have had a bit of a dip – lockdown has not been that tough for me. There is much less I have missed than I thought. Undoubtedly, I have missed my partner, but he died before COVID19 and the contact with my children, but I have enjoyed the peace, the lack of social pressure and ‘have tos’.
Sartre wrote that ‘Total responsibility in total solitude – is this not the very definition of our liberty?’ Of course, he was talking about 1941 when life was vastly different. Because then choices were literally about life and death. Resistance fighters found themselves thinking ‘Rather death than …’ We are not in that situation, but death is maybe a bit more prominent in our lives right now, and it does remind us to take seriously the choices we make, about our work, our relationships, and our lifestyles.
The BBC has a new property programme A Simple Life – focusing on families that want to up and leave the city for a quieter life. I have just watched it from under my duvet. The pandemic is focusing us more on our life choices. It has made us realise that maybe we are living a life that we never freely chose but just drifted into. There is now almost a new urgency that unless we make a change – this is going to be our lot until we die.
Certainly, I have drifted. If I talk to 16-year-old Roma, the non-conformist, the questioner, the one that argued and fought for what she thought was right, she would not be that impressed. I had so many ideals and passions but somehow, I allowed myself to become consumed by the desires and thoughts of others and came to falsely believe that money and materialism offered me security. So, I bought into that life. I had houses, cars, jobs, private education for my children etc etc. But now, in true Sartre mode – I am rethinking it all.
I am waking up to perhaps a new kind of freedom. The challenge for me and I think for society is how we now respond. Can we recover and make a post epidemic life richer and more worthwhile? Looking at the leadership around the world I am not that confident.
The pandemic has given me the time to think and ponder about my life and my future. And remembering my now favourite poem “We have two lives and the second one begins when you realise you only have one,” I need to get my ducks in a row so I am ready to dance when I can finally experience the outside world again.
So, when I get out from under my duvet — thank you Judy I am writing this blog while still in bed on the new laptop which you bought for me – – I will endeavour to put this new positivity into practice.
In the meantime, I leave you with one final Sartre quote:
“Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.”
“Let’s be careful out there”