It was in 2018 that I was blessed with the sight of South Africa, its shimmering mirage of yellow and orange receding towards the horizon. The savannah, emanating a purity not yet spoiled by human innovation gave me a feeling of blissful freedom; the obligations and anxieties of society cut away like ivy, only to reinfect the mind the moment the jet engines ceased to sputter, an announcement that we had returned to reality and could no longer retreat into the vast voids of our imagination. Before the pandemic, travelling represented freedom – a brief moment in our lives to soar higher than the tower of Babel, swim as far as the ocean could carry, and experience the other worldly cultures of nations different from our own.
Travel lets us explore the unknown and venture forth into new worlds with an innocence misplaced since the passing of our youth. In South Africa, I witnessed Mother Nature’s utopia filling the vast expanse of space that lay before me. Gazelles glided across an open plain whilst elephants fulfilled their higher purpose – remoulding and reshaping the landscape, the earth itself their canvas. I grew envious, gazing out over a nation that possessed a beauty I could only dream of witnessing at home. Here stood skyscrapers, there I stood in the shadows of trees so large and so green I could only imagine the stories they could tell. The sun shining through their leaves so as to paint a picture, dissolving at a moment’s notice as the day began to darken and the air began to freeze.
In our time of internal reflection that this pandemic has granted us, internal activities take on a pronounced meaning as our movements slow, and our minds quicken. The melodic chords of music fall in rhythmic synchronicity with the yearnings of the heart, the words and actions of the imaginary places transport us to begin to represent our desperate desires for recognition in a time marked with pronounced loneliness and unnerving contemplation. It is during these times, held hostage to the inner sanctum of our minds, that we are forced to come to terms with who we truly are, as living beings – finding a newfound sense of empathy and concern for our fellow traveller. Whilst a lack of travel has damaged the minds of many, it has also forced us to stop running from the demons that haunt our existence. In a time of loneliness, we find ourselves presented with the fact we are not alone – journeying down a road many have travelled, many are yet to travel, and many are travelling now.
Whilst the act of physical adventure has ceased to exist in an event earmarked for the annals of history, it has forced us to undertake a different form of adventure. Not one between continents, but states of mind. As we sit alone at our desks, comprehending the vast equations of science or untangling the myth and truth of history, we gaze out of our windows to appreciate those facets of life so often taken for granted. Each morning the sun rises and the birds sing while flowers die in the autumn to flourish once more in the spring. In a world of unnerving uncertainty, there also exists a continuity and peace that this isolation has forced us to turn to – establishing a certain understanding of the vast paroxysmal reveries that occupy the human mind. Looking around us, we obtain the revelation that the beauty we sought was standing right in front of us. We can admire the works of nature in Britain as we do abroad. We can admire the works of our ancestors as a legacy of one generation standing tall for all those that have followed. Within Britain, we can see the handwriting of the figures who came before us etched into the monuments and towers that once dominated a historic skyline. We can see their triumphs and failures, their wishes and desires, the purposes they believed they were placed on this earth to fulfil. It is through the comprehension of all this beauty, that we can also begin to face our own battles. We are simply next in a long line of human development to experience the existential questioning we have come to face. Whilst the questions of our soul are frightening, and we so often fear it is a battle we are losing, it does not mean it is a battle we cannot win. From pain has thrived the greatest success, and from questioning has developed the pinnacles of human accomplishment.
I think this is what the pandemic has granted us, an ability to see the things that so often remain unseen; and it is through the sum of all these parts that this generation begins to adopt a new appreciation of the emotions so often stigmatised in the digital ink of the web. The beauty in front of us is now no longer an illusion, the sufferings of the soul no longer ignored. Perhaps when we finally meet that strange man of the dark, come to confirm the mortality of our existence, our final moments will be spent looking back on this time, marking it as the crossroads where happiness and clarity finally prevailed, permitting us to shine a new torch on the possibilities of life. The moment where we untangled the tribulations of our self-discovery.