‘When all this is over, can we keep it this way?’

Thought for the week: Alison Leonard on what we really need

'Now, with the coronavirus reducing us to our most basic essentials, we’re discovering what we really need.' | Photo: nito100 / iStock.com.

When I first heard the phrase ‘There is no Planet B’ I remembered a visit I’d made to Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny. I was awed at its exquisite irises, its Japanese bridge, and its air of being both airily casual and carefully planned.

Years later, I watched a programme about how the garden is maintained for the thousands of visitors who visit Giverny each year. The presenter gave away the garden’s secret: there are two replica ‘Monet’s gardens’, where plants are grown to replace the ones the tourists come to see. When the visitors have gone, busy gardeners replace fading plants with fresh new ones. Every day, they turn ‘Monet’s garden’ back into the one that he painted.

That struck me as a fine metaphor for how we treat the planet: your gardens will be renewed and repaired – if you throw something ‘away’ there’s a useful ‘away’ for it to go. Planets B and C will cope.

Now, with the coronavirus reducing us to our most basic essentials, we’re discovering what we really need. Not cruises, second homes, cars or even beautiful gardens. We’re realising what we’re addicted to. Who thought it might be toilet rolls and raisins? (Yes, I’m addicted to raisins.) That’s what we need. And who do we need? Carers, and cleaners. At last it dawns on us that these are two of the worst-paid professions.

If we have any mind-space left after we’ve absorbed the government’s latest edict, learned how to use Zoom, and worked out how to go for a walk without getting closer than six feet to any other human, I hope Friends will be among those who are reconsidering our carbon footprints. Our air is cleaner. Our skies are almost free of vapour trails. Fossil fuel demand has slumped. When all this is over, can we keep it this way?

When I was a member of the Quaker Concern around Dying and Death – pondering with other Friends how we can face our deaths responsibly – one of the banes of my life was the concept of ‘the bucket list’ – things to do before you die. Bungee-jump over the Victoria Falls? Visit the Galapagos, like Charles Darwin? Climb every Munro before breakfast? When life has been scaled down to exercising in your handkerchief-sized garden, or indeed whether you or your dearest one will survive the month, the day, or the hour, those ambitions fade to the illusions they always were.

For some months now, our local Quaker discussion group has been pondering this question: ‘How can we live a spiritual and moral life in today’s turbulent times?’ When we settled on this question last autumn, we little knew just how turbulent – how totally upended, in every particular – our times would be. But the question is appropriate. It seems to me to be, actually, the only question we need to ask.

You need to login to read subscriber-only content and/or comment on articles.