Good Friday

Today is Friday, April 10th. For some reason we call this “Good Friday”.

This morning there is no newspaper, and all supermarkets are closed here in Aotearoa.

It occurs to me again that while the world is consumed by Covid 19, and different countries are dealing (or not dealing) with this real and present threat in various ways, it is here, now, demanding attention. You cannot reason with it. Your economy may be going down a black hole (to use a New York Times expression), but it demands suffering and sacrifice. That choice seems remarkably clear, to me: you can distance yourself from your loved ones now, and they may remain well, or you can continue aspects of your former life and interactions, and watch your loved ones, and may be yourself, grow ill, suffer, and perhaps need hospital treatment and maybe die. It’s no choice, really.  One feels for those in countries where leadership is lacking to encourage people to see human life as being more important than anything else.

The virus is here now and demands immediate attention and management. It has sprung on us. Remember how in September through to December and New Year’s Eve we were consumed with the Australian bush fires, ravaging what seemed like considerable areas of that vast country. Then a strange virus coming out of Wuhan, a large city in China’s Hubei province, began to demand our attention. Many of us had never heard of Wuhan. What seemed like a small threat developed into a massive, world-wide pandemic, that has wreaked havoc on already struggling economies (and healthy ones), and forced us all to reconsider the simplest of tasks – food shopping. In New Zealand we isolate ourselves in our “bubbles”: the place where we live, whoever lives there, and a two kilometre radius around it. Petrol process have fallen, but the price of fuel seems irrelevant now, since we aren’t allowed to go anywhere.  Even a bus trip seems perilous, a library extremely hazardous. You cannot see this infection, you only know it may be there, anywhere, and it’s extremely easy to catch.

Dr Campbell’s update from the North of England mentioned New Zealand’s success in managing this virus, and the stupidity of the Minister of Health. Thankfully his foolishness is more than balanced by the Director General of Health’s calm reasoned approach.  Articles have now appeared in the English Guardian newspaper about New Zealand’s approach.

At today’s briefing we learnt there had been a second death from Covid 19. The victim was a 90 year old woman, who like the first death, had underlying health conditions.  The number of new cases is 44, bringing the total to 1283. Of the new cases, 42 are linked to existing clusters. We are learning more and more about these clusters. It seems anytime a group of people get together, there is an enormous risk of transmission.

It is also the case that any kind of institution is at enormous risk, whether it be a rest or nursing home, where folk are already elderly and usually have underlying health conditions, homes for intellectually disabled people, prisons, and refugee camps. As well as people in care getting ill and dying, the staff often get sick too, thus putting their own families at risk.  The medical staff who care for the sick are hugely at risk too, working long shifts in cumbersome haz-mat gear, when they can get it. 

The US seems to be in a very bad way, with respect to institutions, and, unsurprisingly, black or brown people seem to suffer worse than white people and die more frequently. It stands to reason, really: if you have less money, live in more crowded conditions, buy cheaper food, use public transport and do a physical job rather than being able to work from home (is that really such an ideal situation?), you are far more likely to contract the disease and be worse affected economically. Another 6 million people have filed for unemployment in the US. Meanwhile, I am very worried about their food production. People employed in these industries tend to be on a very low hourly rate, have poor employment conditions, are pressured to work whether they are well or not, and are now getting ill themselves. We are all only as safe as the last meal we ate. In NZ, everyone is eating three meals a day at home, so we rely heavily on those wonderful people who prepare it, pick it, pack it, and sell it to us. They all have families, too.

In the UK, NHS staff are not permitted to speak to the media.  One video I did see showed some medical staff huddling round a computer screen and not maintaining separation. They explained that they couldn’t, not really.

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Seeing that it’s Good Friday today, I take the opportunity to note music, poetry and a painting with a religious theme appropriate to Easter.

The painting is Salvador Dali’s Christ of St John on the Cross. This poem hangs in the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow, and I have seen it. When we visited in June 2016, there was an organ recital there too.

My hymn for today is When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, by Isaac Watts (1674 – 1749).  He wrote many hymns. At the moment my favourite recording is by the King’s College Choir, Cambridge.

When I survey the wond’rous Cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest Gain I count but Loss,
And pour Contempt on all my Pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the Death of Christ my God:
All the vain Things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his Blood.

See from his Head, his Hands, his Feet,
Sorrow and Love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such Love and Sorrow meet?
Or Thorns compose so rich a Crown?

ere the whole Realm of Nature mine,
That were a Present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my Soul, my Life, my All.

My music for today is Allegri’s Miserere Mei, a setting of Psalm 51 in Latin. There beautiful recordings of this.

And, since it’s Easter, I have been listening again to Bach’s St Matthew Passion. While the whole work is quite long, it has a beautiful, hope-filled refrain that I’m sure you will recognise and a very special closing chorus; it also provides the opening music for the movie Casino. Be that as it may, it’s an extraordinarily wonderful composition.

Today we listened to lots of music: Vivaldi’s Gloria, Mozart’s Verum Corpus, Beethoven’s 3rd Piano Concerto, and the music from the second movement of Mozart’s 23rd Piano Concerto, which was used in the movie The Death of Stalin.

This morning it was cold, but once again it cleared in the afternoon and we had a nice walk. It’s nice to have some quiet time.

Nga Mihi

Christ of St. John of the cross

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