The more things change...Saturday, March 27, 2021
That old adage, “The more things change is the more they remain the same,” was coined in 1849 by a popular French author, Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr. He was well know for his sense of humour and his powerful satirical style. The phrase echoes his fondness for pointing fun at his readers underscored in this instance by the truism that indeed the more things change the more we human beings remain the same.
Many things remain consistent even as things around us change. We change our car for a new one, but the brakes still go or the horn fails to blow, just as it did on the old one. We change our Government for a different one, and we find the same faults, the same shortcomings, as existed with the former. We move to a different neighbourhood to get away from loud music and, yes, we find the new environs just as noisy as and even more uncomfortable than where we were before.
Who would have thought, looking back at what we lost at Easter in 2020, we would again be looking at a locked down Easter in 2021.
The novel coronavirus arrived in Jamaica with the first case being confirmed on March 10, 2020. We had stood aloof during the preceding months as the virus made its way from China, across the Indian Ocean, into Europe, and we were always hoping that this alien thing would stay abroad. Even when it crossed the Atlantic we were still sure it could not pass the great America with its army of scientists and medical experts and great research institutions.
When it reached Jamaica we were still sceptical. Cho, man, it can't survive our weather, we too warm, it won't trouble black people, it hasn't made any inroads in Africa.
By April, however, the writing was on the wall. Each evening we sat transfixed in front of the TV with Prime Minister Andrew Holness, Health Minister Christopher Tufton, and other government and health leaders solemnly reeling out the daily toll. COVID-19 was firmly in the saddle, but we seemed to be managing well, and we were justifiably comparing ourselves favourably with the rest of the world.
But as the year progressed the number of cases and deaths increased. Then towards the end of the year we began to hear encouraging news about the discovery of the vaccine, leading to mounting optimism that, by middle of 2021, or earlier, we would be partying again. Not so! Unfortunately, the more COVID-19 piled it on, the more we continued to ignore the safeguards and health guidelines, and the more our behaviour remained unchanged.
Look at where we were this time last year. Some readers may remember an article which I wrote and was published in this newspaper on March 22, 2020, titled 'Coming soon! A season of hope and renewal'. So much has changed in our lives since that article was written, and yet, to a very large extent, things remain the same. Perhaps excerpts from that story will bring back memories of what we were facing as we approached our first COVID-19 Easter.
“Three weeks from today we will be celebrating Good Friday and Easter Sunday, what we commonly call the Easter weekend. Sadly, it won't be the same. The churches will be near empty this year, the beaches lonely, family gatherings sombre, the dance halls quiet.
“The physical manifestations of a traditional Easter weekend in Jamaica will be absent as far as the eye can see. The novel coronavirus 2019 epidemic appears likely to bottle up Easter 2020, as plans for travelling overseas, travelling to the north coast, travelling to the country for family reunions, are all put on hold.
“It's a sombre shadow cast by this rampaging virus which is as unwelcome as it was unexpected. It has caused a shutdown around the entire globe, forcing mankind to find a common base as never before through our fears, our anguish, our brotherhood, the reordering of our economic and social agendas, and in our relentless search for solutions.
“Yet, the timing of this great religious festival and holiday could never be better. It comes at a time when universal spirits are low, felled by this ongoing pandemic outbreak. But, look up, as Easter proclaims a time of renewal, a time of recovery and hope, and a time to celebrate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Consider this: Two thousand years ago, the world was unwittingly experiencing its darkest hour when the Son of God was killed on the Cross. The Bible tells us how on that first Good Friday, the earth shook, tombs broke open, soldiers trembled, and darkness covered the land.
“The men who had openly followed their teacher up to his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem had now stepped back in terror; their master publicly scorned and crucified, their hopes now thrown to the wind. They retreated to a sad and secret place.
“There was mourning in Jerusalem, with the promise of a brave new world destroyed, and possible extermination facing the disciples at the hands of the soldiers who would surely be hunting them down.
“Then, on the first day of the week, the pages of history are dramatically rewritten as the man buried in a borrowed grave rises from the dead, the lights are turned on, and an Easter morning sparkles in all its glory as the forward march begins for the greatest religion the world will ever know.
“That's Easter to look forward to in April, where “no grave can hold my body down”, the Easter lilies will be blooming, kites will be flying, and the magnificent Hallelujah Chorus will last forever.
“Coronavirus will take its toll, but we dare not allow the human spirit enriched by the eternal promise of Easter to be overcome by the gloom and doom of this pandemic spread...
“So in the midst of our present woes and very real pain, let's look forward to an Easter revival of our sagging spirits. Lift up your hearts! I guarantee that the Easter lilies will be more beautiful this year. Easter cannot be the same without these beautiful trumpet-shaped flowers. Look out for them...
“Enter the Jamaican bun and cheese — one tradition that, thankfully, will not go away. In fact, I was a little bit surprised to see Easter bun and cheese making its way on to the supermarket shelves as early as last week. This is the time of the year when we satiate ourselves with those gigantic Easter buns. The custom may have come down to us from the hot cross buns of the British. In my childhood, the buns baked at home were actually draped with crispy crosses that were themselves a tasty mouthful and added character to the taste.
“Governments of today and yesterday have always been glad to welcome the Easter break, which usually coincides with the national budget debates. The nation, weighted down by bun and cheese, will be well sedated, and many of us will be joining our parliamentarians as they catch a little snooze on the parliamentary benches during some of those long-winded speeches.
“But, jesting aside, this will not be your regular Budget Debate, and the opening presentations have already underlined that. Coronavirus takes centre stage this year and, as our leaders and common sense have already told us, one certainty is that this fight is not up to the doctors and medical people alone. Every Jamaican has to take it seriously and accept our responsibility to do our part to control the spread.
“At first we weren't sure how the ordinary man could play a meaningful role. After all, this was an illness, and we are not doctors nor nurses. But the advisories and instructions from the Ministry of Health and Wellness have made our roles very clear.
“I am not a doctor. I can't heal. My role is to help to control and prevent the spread of the disease. That I can do. Wash hands, cover nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, avoid close contact, and avoid crowded spaces. Make these actions habits.
“I have found that these simple steps require a great deal of discipline. My normal instinct is to share an embrace or to shake hands. Now I learn all over again a different form of greeting like the heel and toe or the elbow touch. Sounds simple, sometimes even amusing, but it can mean the difference between life and death.”
“Ah, c'est la vie”, said the Frenchman, “plus ça change, plus c'est la même chos.'
Such is life, the more things change, the more they remain the same.
Lance Neita is a public relations consultant and author. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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