One unlikely victim of this pandemic has been our collective sense of scale. A single virus has infected millions, affected billions and cost trillions. I’ll give you a moment with those numbers.
If you’re like me you’ve probably become a little cold to the chaos. It’s why, until things start looking up, I’ve found myself looking up instead. It’s remarkable what tilting your chin a few degrees (and away from the buzz and beep of that backlit screen) can do for your outlook.
Like many who are seeking distraction, I’ve indulged in a little stargazing of late (my neighbours are safe, I’ve not invested in that telescope yet). It’s a rather good time to look up too. The number of planes has nosedived, road traffic is down and the fug of pollution has lifted. And so my modest north London balcony has become a front-row seat to the orbit of planets, pull of the moon and the path of stars twinkling in the newly glass-clear firmament. But I’ve found myself asking how some of the stringy excuses for constellations came to be known by such august titles. Taurus? A five-year-old could draw a better dot-to-dot bull. Libra? A sad party hat. The great bear? A limp, wind-wanting kite. I suppose that my images are a little less catchy.
But it’s proven a deeply comforting way to spend a few minutes during a mild evening gazing up. In fact, it’s an age-old act. When the world doesn’t make sense, humans have always looked up for answers; to find their way across the oceans or to project the scuffles of gods onto a clap of thunder or the waxing of the moon. We stare at the sky to glimpse a deeper, more universal rhythm to our existence. Some see a jolly god where others only find empty space. Whatever we decide, we’re all seeking illumination in the lights above us. We’re acknowledging that we’re small and pretty powerless but that we’re here – and that is sometimes enough.
While the pings on my phone keep me updated on infection rates, recovery ratios and statistical modelling for our battered economy, the fat May moon is a reminder that this virus, like all natural things, will ebb and flow; heat up and burn out. When things look hopeless, look up – it helps to put it all in perspective.
About the writer: Fehnert is monocle’s executive editor. He oversees our food and hospitality coverage and hosts the weekly radio show Monocle on Design on Monocle 24.