Yin and Yang

Today is Saturday August 8th (or later). Kia ora katoa.

On Wednesday there are two new cases of coronavirus, both in managed isolation. Community testing continues. We are safe to go about our daily lives, and resume our former activities.

On Tuesday I went to tai chi. There were two or three more people there than last week. On Wednesday morning I went to hymn singing, and we sung hymns set to the tune of Finlandia and the Russian National Anthem. It was nice.

On Wednesday afternoon my son and grandson came to visit. It is so nice to watch him grow up. He has so much conversation now. On Thursday morning I expect to go to regular singing, and to catch up with an old friend in the afternoon.

On Monday morning. I enjoyed some recordings. I listened to Bishop Barron’s homily – marvellous. Then I listened to a British debate about the relative merits of Shakespeare and Milton, on Intelligence Squared. There was an American professor talking about Shakespeare, and an Englishman speaking about Milton. To my mind, they are both very great poets: there is no point in comparing them. One may as well try too compare Homer and Virgil; there is no comparison. They each have different gifts.

It was wonderful to hear scenes from Shakespeare re-enacted, and excerpts from Milton’s Paradise Lost read aloud. What a treat!  The American professor claimed that the Bard knew more about relationships between men and women; the other argued for the dramatic aspects of Milton’s epic poem, and spoke at length about Adam and Eve’s relationship, before the Fall.

I wrote an essay on Paradise Lost for my English Literature Masters degree, on how successful Milton was at justifying the ways of God to man. Back then, although I was already married, the sexual aspect of Adam and Eve’s relationship eluded me. How one grows!

On any level, they are both great masters, and wrote wonderful poetry. One of the features of great writers is that they usually know a great deal more about human beings and their relationships than one would expect from their perhaps limited environment; one thinks here of Jane Austen, or Charlotte Bronte.  Sometimes the characters do not ring true: one thinks of Charles Dickens here, where the character of Esther in Bleak House is perhaps his finest woman.

Back in the real world, New Zealand continues to bask in a state where the coronavirus is well under control, and no community spread has been detected. We are advised not to be complacent; the Director-General of Health has warned that a community case of Covid 19 is a matter of when, not if. We enjoy our pleasures with a sense of guilty relief, that we can do so; our privileges may be taken away again. In the meantime, most of us are very grateful, not only to have escaped this scourge (so far), but also to be relieved of the fear of human contact. Our children are back at school, and playing sport again. There are various grizzles about unemployment (at 4%), and the cost to tourism. In my view we are very fortunate here to have escaped with our lives, and not to hear of our loved ones’ dying, and be unable to attend their funerals. Tourism has responded to a demonstrated need: we didn’t have “Lord of the Rings” Tours before we had the Tolkien movies; there are some great tourism deals for New Zealanders; and many of us are grateful to be able to view great sites without being in a queue. While I don’t doubt that some have been hard hit, everyone I have spoken to is grateful for the tough lock down we experienced.

There remains some vulnerability around the issue of 14 days of “managed isolation” for returning travelers, who are all New Zealand citizens, at present. Other people have to interact with them: airport staff, bus drivers, hotel staff and hotel maintenance staff. Evidently these folk are not tested for Covid 19, although they probably should be offered regular testing.  But how can blame New Zealanders for wanting to come back here? Where in the world would you rather be? I’m sure that most of us know at least one person in the wonderful city of Melbourne. That city is now under lock down, and a curfew, and is still experiencing several hundred new infections each day, and several deaths. Care homes have been very hard hit, and several medical staff are ill as well. We certainly don’t want that to happen here. It is ironic that Kiwis, who were very obedient to the lock down and rules imposed by pharmacies and supermarkets, are now enjoying our freedom again. Having been quite well-behaved, we can now not only do as we wish, but we have a thriving economy, as well. Every time I have been to the shops, either locally or in the CBD, it has been busy. Public transport is busy. Libraries are busy.

Much of the world’s nations are experiencing a “second wave” of the coronavirus, with numbers of infections increasing again, especially in places like Australia, Spain, Israel, the Philippines. The English government continues to be confused, and confusing in their approach.

The US, however, has not really got past phase one. In their effort to “open up” states that had never properly closed down, the numbers of those infected, and the deaths, just keep rising. Almost 5 million people have been infected (officially), and the death count is over 161,000. Millions of people are out of work, millions are facing eviction, and utilities such as power and water may be switched off. If the situation was desperate before, it’s worse now. “It is what it is”, said the President, in the now famous Axios interview with Jonathan Swan. I must admit I didn’t used to rate him highly, but he’s gone way up in my esteem.

A major concern is the President’s wish to reopen schools, from early August, after their long summer break. While most people want their children back in school, this must be a terrifying prospect for many, many parents. Most people want to work and learn – safely.  That assurance is denied them. While there is much debate about this, several schools are opting for online learning only.

Sadly, I learn that one of my dearest friend’s cancer has returned – in her brain. Her three sons are overseas, but her daughter and baby grandson are with her.

I need to wrap this up. Nga mihi.

John Milton quotes from Paradise Lost, Book 1:

“What though the field be lost?
All is not Lost; the unconquerable will,
And study of revenge, immortal hate,
And the courage never to submit or yield.”

The mind is its own place and in itself, 

can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.

At once as far as angels’ ken he views

The dismal situation waste and wild,

As one great furnace flamed, yet from those flames

No light, but rather darkness visible

Served only to discover sights of woe…

And from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Act 5:

And my ending is despair,

Unless I be relieved by prayer,

Which pierces so that it assaults,

Mercy itself and frees all faults.

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