Per Ardua ad Astra

Prose

A reflection on my fears and hopes at the start of the Coronavirus pandemic.

It is absurd to think that just over two weeks ago, I was watching vintage porn and browsing the evolution of dildos in the Sex Machine Museum in Prague, unaware of the cataclysmic disaster that was about the consume the entire world.

A couple days later as I took a half-empty flight home just before the Czech Republic closed their borders, I looked down at the uncertainty of Earth and felt pain exude from her carved-up and concreted surface. What did this unpredictable world have in store for me once I landed?

Self-isolation: It’s a word and a way of life that most of us Londoners have gotten used to in a very short space of time, and a necessity in saving as much of our vulnerable population as we possibly can.

While the number of fatalities continues to rise and hospitals begin to reach maximum capacity, my hometown has become a city of desolate pubs and theatres, cautiously spaced supermarket queues and constant talk of a virus that is impacting peoples’ lives in innumerable ways.

Social media has become a blast of gut-wrenching images and statistics, disastrous forewarnings, gratitude and praise for health-care professionals working at the frontlines and rage at a system that is underprepared and ill-equipped for such a feat.

In the midst of all this chaos, I am among the privileged – young, with a healthy set of lungs and resilient immune system; sheltered and able to work from home; and a network of family and friends and an adept prefrontal cortex helping me stay calm and connected during this period of absolute mayhem.

In times like these, there is a saying I like to tell myself that my brother taught me in his own weird and wonderful way.

My brother was born four years before me with multiple neurological mis-wirings that made him epileptic, learning-disabled and on the autistic spectrum. Needless to say, growing up with someone with such a unique way of thinking, communicating and experiencing the world gave my childhood a rather unusual flavour.

My brother’s world revolved around him and his interests, and throughout his life has remained a loyal fanatic of aircraft. So keen was my brother’s love of aircraft, that during my childhood we went on countless outings to live air shows where he would stare in absolute awe at the red, white and blue trails of the Red Arrows, and almost weekly visits to his favourite place on Earth – the Royal Air Force Museum.

One day in my early 20s, while reading a completely unrelated book, I stumbled across the Latin motto of the RAF; “Per ardua ad astra.”, which translates to, “Through adversity to the stars.”. For a moment I was stunned. Looking back at all the hours I had spent wandering between fighter jets and concords, bumping in the back of an aircraft simulator and darting around an aviation-themed playground, something inside me knew this had always been my brother’s message.

But in the chaos of the Coronavirus pandemic, there were no museums open for inspiration. After a week of self-isolation, I watched the horrors of the news from my bed and sunk hopelessly into my cushions, waves of grief and panic washing over me.

With thousands of lives already taken, how many more would we lose? How many more weeks, months or years do we need to isolate ourselves so our hospitals can curtail the death toll? What will happen to resources and economies across the globe? How will the structures of our society cope and change in order to survive? What will the world look like once it’s finally safe to step outside?

After a short while of drowning among a pile of pillows, the words per ardua at astra begin to swirl around my head, until I sit up and inhale deeply. My brother was right – it is only through struggle and adversity that we can reach something truly dazzling, extraordinary, transformational.

We human beings are a traumatised species, repeating the mistakes of our forefathers, conditioned by a profit-driven system, and disconnected from our very own nature.

With the hustle and bustle of a sleepless city put on hold, it seems we can no longer distract ourselves with such flashes of instant gratification. Trapped within four walls with screen entertainment soon becoming tedious, I’m sure many of us will soon begin to turn to what we already possess within ourselves, however that might look…

Journaling, self-exploration, literary inquiry, art, creative expression, musical ingenuity, movement and dance, bizarre comedic performances, culinary experiments, horticultural construction, spiritual insight and connection…Who knows the myriad of ways we humans will learn to deal with solitary confinement, and how this period of adversity might transform us both on an individual level and as a common collective species.

Alone and forced to confront the demons of my past, I plan to take full advantage of the opportunity to slay my internal saboteur, develop a deeper and richer understanding of myself and what I bring to the world, and transform my old ways into new beginnings.

But there is one more incredible thing that has been brought about by this pandemic – a greater connection with other fellow beings.
In knowing that we are all in this together, many of us have come to learn the importance of compassion, communication and community. And that, my friends, is how we can propel society out of the depths of trauma and into a space of healing and transformation.

As I look out my window at the vastness of the sky, I am filled with hope and inspiration – just as my brother holds his aircraft before him, transfixed by the power and speed of human invention. Per ardua ad astra, my brother. You always knew.

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