Walking down the beautiful alleys of the Thabor in Rennes, one of my favourite French cities, I came across a scene that reminded me of the world before the pandemic. A world where we could sit next to each other to act as the social beings we all are and experience art, together.
It was summer. The atmosphere was fairly relaxed, oblivious of the invisible killer on a rampage. While wearing a mask in downtown Rennes was an obligation, several visitors didn’t have one on their faces and, if they had one, they would wear it below their noses or chins. But I couldn’t blame them. The Thabor is a spacious garden and social distancing wasn’t an issue.
When I saw all these empty chairs lined up before an equally empty bandstand, I felt a pinch in my heart, a hint of despair. I remembered how much I enjoyed live music. The many concerts I’ve attended. The numerous souls I felt connected with. The energy the musicians passed on to us and, percolated by our hearts and emotions, circulated back to them. Live music embodies one of my mantras: the present is a present.
When I saw these empty chairs and the equally empty bandstand, I felt sad for the artists who can’t meet their public any more. To voice their pain. To speak their joy, their struggles through the vernacular they master and that we understand and love.
Growing up in a peaceful area of the world, where art, science and education were all vital and equal, I thought humanity would never have to go through such a crisis. Maybe ‘thought’ isn’t the right word to use here. Maybe ‘hoped’ is more fitting. But hope isn’t a strategy and we had so many warning signs about our ways, that we collectively chose to ignore. And, if we ever decided to take ‘action’, we went to the so-called social media that are anything but social. To complain, sometimes vehemently, in 280 characters sentences before moving on to the next hot topic that we felt obliged to comment on. Shallow, frail, and futile. I’d wager Darwin didn’t envision evolution would turn out into a form of regression, an ‘idiocracy’.
Hope isn’t a strategy but a necessity. It’s the fuel that makes us go that extra mile, day after day. So I hope that we will learn our lesson this time, for real. I hope that we will stop ‘entertaining’ ourselves to death by fairy tales and constant dopamine in small doses. I hope that we will stop lying to ourselves in such a mind-boggling proportion.
We are social beings. And society doesn’t fare well when hyper-individualism is the new norm. When many, trapped in a small, handheld frame, forget that we can’t exercise our freedom in independence from the required collaboration among us, for our collective well-being. In a note to The Old Regime and the Revolution (1856), Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that ‘No one is less independent than a citizen of a free state.’
I hope that we can relearn to depend on one another. I hope that we can understand that, as humans, we must relinquish some of our individual freedoms for the sake of the collectivity that defines us.
We must stop sowing the seeds of greed, ignorance, fear and hatred.
So that one day, we can put back art, science and education on the pedestals they deserve.
So that one day, we can occupy, together, those empty seats before they rust, smile to one another, and let the good vibes ‘spoken’ by those playing on the bandstand grip us.
So that one day, the present will become a present again.