This article first appeared on Malta Today
From the collapse of the Azure Window earlier this year, to a parked plane being carried away by gale force winds smack into a wall just this week, I get the feeling that nature is trying to tell us something.
In my imagination, the message, for those who care to listen, is that human beings are insignificant little specks which can be wiped out with a flick of a finger if the elements so choose, by conspiring to teach us a lesson once and for all . Of course, at one level of our brain, we know all this. When we see the havoc wreaked by tsunamis and floods and earthquakes and hurricanes and any other natural disasters over which we have no control, I think most of us feel a shiver of unease and a dread in the pit of our stomach as we realise that, in the grand scheme of things, none of our material possessions matter one iota when our personal safety is at stake.
Whether you live in a huge mansion and drive a Lamborghini, or whether you live in a modest mud hut in the middle of Africa where your feet are your only means of transport, all Mother Nature has to do is sneeze and life, as you know it, is over. The extent of the devastation may be in proportion to your lifestyle and surroundings but, in real terms, it is basically the same if everything you own is wiped out in a blink of an eye. Sometimes the devastation does not come in the form of material things being taken away, but in the form of cruel illness or tragic, unexpected death which take away the people we love, which is arguably much worse. There is probably nothing which can make us more aware of our own mortality than losing someone, for it is at that moment that everything shifts into clear perspective. The essence of what is really important in life never appears sharper or more crystallized in our minds than when personal tragedy strikes.
And yet, it is also true that man can be a very selfish creature who tends to be oblivious to anything which does not directly concern him. As long as their own lives remain unperturbed, many may pause and linger for a few fleeting seconds on other people’s tragedies murmuring “jaħasra”, but will barely spare them another moment’s thought. At the most, they might fling some money at the problem to feel like they have done something. And yet, with all the millions collected for L-strina, for example, and even as we are patting ourselves on the back for being such a generous nation, maybe we should stop to ask ourselves whether we are “richer” as a country in what really counts. Or has the Euro replaced our ability to connect with each other at the most basic, humane level?
Indeed, the anonymous group which replaced the Baby Jesus with a Euro sign on nativity cribs around the island as a form of protest against consumerism and the worship of money, made a very telling point.
According to the news report, “The group mentions psychological problems, health issues, loneliness, litter, traffic, as clear effects of consumerism which they say “reigns supreme,” also pointing towards the poverty issue in our country and the “irony of having a so-called economic surplus and a growing GDP,” while people “have to choose between feeding their families or having a place to live.” In a press statement, the group denounced the Planning Authority for selling a large amount of land for speculation. “Who is making the big money from such natural land grabs? What will we have left when we realise that there are no natural spaces for our children to play in?”
The dichotomy of the different realities in this country are never so apparent than when I scroll through my diverse newsfeed, where one minute I am reading about people moaning about not being well-served at a fancy restaurant, and the next I see a plea to help someone pay for their electricity which is about to be cut off. There are groups which do so much good like Recycle Malta where people give away items they don’t need for free to others who need them, but then the whole thing can sometimes be torpedoed when I read that someone took a free item, only to put it up for sale themselves to make money out of it.
It has often been pointed out that the only way we can truly understand how we got it all wrong and how we have ruined Earth with our greed is if something truly horrific happens on a global scale which reduces the world to nothingness. In fact, I do not think it is just a coincidence that there is so much fascination with the potential scenario of a real Armageddon that it has led to the production of a countless number of TV series and films which have this as their main theme. Another favourite recurring theme, I have noticed, is that we have been invaded by aliens. So it seems that for the future what we are seeing is either total annihilation or else a complete takeover by another species – either way we seem to be admitting that we have messed it all up and what we really need to do is shut down, re-boot and start from scratch.
On a slightly more manageable note, however, what we can do is start a new chapter with this coming new year, and try to make our interactions with each other a little kinder, a bit more meaningful and less to do with spending money and more to do with spending time. At the risk of sounding (unfortunately) like a credit card commercial, that is the only thing which really is priceless.