A Memento For Times Like These

“God does not play dice with the universe.”

Albert Einstein


If you’re reading this at this moment in time, you’re probably at home, just like most other people around the world. There’s a lot of fear, a lot of uncertainty, a lot of death.

You might find this time incredibly difficult, at least at first. A controlled movement order or lockdown could mean that you can’t go for a run, you could hardly drive, you can’t spend the evening at your favorite coffee store to read and clear your mind, you can’t meet up with your friends.

Sometimes it feels like this carnage could only get worse. How could we not, when day by day, media headlines bawl about the latest increase in the death toll and in the number of new cases.

In these periods of great worry, it might be useful to take an elevated view on the Covid-19 situation, and also on the world we live in.

If we turn to history, we would learn that in the billions of years our planet Earth has existed, epidemics aren’t new. Part of the long list include the Prehistoric epidemic in 3000 BC, that wiped out an entire village in China, the Plague of Athens, as captured by Thucydides in his book The History of the Peloponnesian War, the Antonine Plague that killed over 5,000 million people in Rome, the horrific Black Death that struck Europe and Asia, and the Spanish Flu, which arrived when soldiers returned home after World War I.

Ideally, history serves in teaching us not to repeat the same mistakes as those who lived before us. But history also does show that even though civilizations modernize, our lives aren’t so different from the ancients. Epidemics have happened before, and will happen again. It’s all part of our stay in this Earth, of our performance in “this very small stage in the cosmic arena”, or this “pale blue dot”, as astronomer Carl Sagan put it.


A NASA image of Earth


“Look again at that dot,” Sagan wrote, instructing us to take a good look at an image of Earth. “That’s here. That’s home.

“On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar’, every ‘supreme leader’, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — On a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

“Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

“Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”

He also wrote, “There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another.”

We don’t have to like the situation we’re in, but once we remind ourselves of the small world we live in, it might help us to be more accepting of it, to worry less, to not be so fixated on our position here.

We might not have any control over this epidemic, but we can use it as a brick in building our character. We can use it as a humble reminder of the very little power we have in this exceedingly tiny planet we call home. We can use it to look back at how frivolous our fights and quarrels are, at how much time we have wasted to endless worrying and purposeless living. We can use it to improve our lives in every arena we know. We can use it to be more kind and compassionate to those around us.

As we face this situation, always try to limit yourself to the present. Don’t worry about how long it’s going to last, or what tomorrow would be like — Just today would be enough.

It’s worth limiting your consumption of the news, as you would only feel worse with more reasons to worry. News are designed to overwhelm the senses and to grab your attention, making the situation more hyped up that it deserves to be.

Instead of checking the news so often, occupy your mind with an activity. Double down on your reading, learn music theory, drink good coffee, or play a great video game with your family — Whatever a good day means to you. Sir Isaac Newton conceived his famous theories on gravity, optics, and calculus when the University of Cambridge closed down and he was forced to stay at home during the Black Death outbreak — Now that’s something to be inspired by.

On a final note, keep close to heart that nothing in this world is coincidental, that every single thing, big and small, could not happen without God’s permission. There’s a lot of wisdom in everything that happens — We just need to walk by faith, not merely by sight. As Marcus Aurelius expressed to himself, “Every event is the right one. Look closely and you’ll see. Not just the right one overall, but right. As if someone had weighed it out with scales.”

There’s an orderliness and harmony in the universe and all that goes around in it, from the macro to the micro.

It might not seem like that right now, but everything’s going to be alright. We’re in good hands.

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