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The Ecological Vision That Will Save Us

To avoid the next pandemic, we need a reckoning with our place in nature.

The marquee on my closed neighborhood movie theater reads, “See you on the other side.” I like reading it every day as I pass by on my walk. It causes me to envision life after the coronavirus pandemic. Which is awfully hard to envision now. But it’s out there. When you have a disease and are in a hospital, alone and afraid, intravenous tubes and sensor wires snaking from your body into digital monitors, all you want is to be normal again. You want nothing more than to have a beer in a dusky bar and read a book in amber light. At least that’s all I wanted last year when I was in a hospital, not from a coronavirus. When, this February, I had that beer in a bar with my book, I was profoundly happy. The worst can pass.

With faith, you can ask how life will be on the other side. Will you be changed personally? Will we be changed collectively? The knowledge we’re gaining now is making us different people. Pain demands relief, demands we don’t repeat what produced it. Will the pain of this pandemic point a new way forward? It hasn’t before, as every war attests. This time may be no different. But the pandemic has slipped a piece of knowledge into the body public that may not be easy to repress. It’s an insight scientists and poets have voiced for centuries. We’re not apart from nature, we are nature. The environment is not outside us, it is us. We either act in concert with the environment that gives us life, or the environment takes life away.

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