JMore than two years ago, my friend Janet came to sympathize with my husband, whose leg was in a cast after a car accident. We immediately notice a change in her. This sharp and funny woman in her 60s, who had nothing good to say about men (with the exception of her three beloved sons, whom she had raised almost singlehandedly) had gone soft.
Not only was she happy, we realized, but it might have been the first time we saw her that way. She soon admitted that she was in love. He couldn’t forget the fact that he had met the man in question, even if it had happened relatively late in life. His happiness was contagious. It was a gem of a night that only shines brighter in my memory for what happened next.
A few weeks later, Janet came back to see us and mentioned, but only as she was leaving, that the man had died. He hadn’t been able to meet her on a cold early spring morning in the park, and it had taken him a while to figure out why. A few weeks after that, she called late one night from a hospital emergency department to say that her legs had given way under her. Doctors had found cancer of the brain, lungs, and liver. My husband was no longer in a cast and was limping with a cane. I remember being hit by the change of luck. His health was on an upward trajectory; hers was heading down.
For the better part of a year I visited Janet because her health deteriorated and she died on March 12 of last year, just before the UK and other countries entered their first lockdown. She had been mostly oblivious to the pandemic that licked her windows, as if she and he no longer inhabited the same world, and now I feel for her what the Brazilian chronicler Pedro Nava felt for the girl he idolized as a teenager, who died . in the influenza pandemic of 1918: “Now it belonged to the past, as distant as the Punic wars, as the ancient Egyptian dynasties, such as King Minos or the first men, wandering and miserable.”
There were many more deaths to come, of course, some of them caused by Covid-19; part of it caused by the collateral effects of Covid-19; part of it, like Janet’s, is coincidence. Millions of love stories, revenge, encounters, debts and annihilated projects. What extinct lives have in common is that we haven’t been able to commemorate them yet (social distancing excludes this), and in the meantime, those people have been swept away by the tide of history. So how should we pay tribute to them, eventually?
Perhaps it is the times, because the stelae have passed, but many of the memorials that have been created to date seem to embody the ephemeral. The Mayor of London will soon plant a tree in East London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, which, along with 32 others, one for each of the capital’s districts, will bloom each spring. The New York Times filled its cover with the names of the dead; Germans made shrines of burning candles; India created a monument website. I don’t know if I would call it a memorial, but the new Paris of artist Christian Boltanski exposition contains videos of bucolic scenes that are contaminated by images of massacres of the 20th century: the horror that crosses the limen of consciousness.
Pandemics have a paradoxical quality because the magnitude of death they cause forces us to become aware of our own mortality, yet we are bad at relating to death on a large scale. Beyond our own circle, it becomes nonsense. At the same time, because pandemics destroy people but not infrastructure, unlike wars, which destroy both, humanity tends to recover from them relatively quickly. People are replaced by other people. The residual sense of loss comes from the death of individuals, who are irreplaceable. These memorials attempt to bridge the gap between names and numbers, meaning and nonsense. They make us think about what disappeared in an instant and will not return.
But there is another aspect of pandemics that memorials must mark, and that is their eternal return. Both are ephemeral and perennial. Whenever we think that we have defeated the invisible enemy, we have really just entered a new round.
One of such monument It has been in planning for a year in Montevideo, Uruguay, and construction is due to begin in the next few months: a shallow bowl of concrete and steel, almost 40 meters in diameter, suspended over the South Atlantic. Visitors will walk towards it from an urban beach and look down through a central void towards the turbulent sea, the sound of which will amplify the concave structure. In certain climatic conditions, it will disappear from the view of those who look from “civilization”, or it will melt on the horizon, and will weather over time. The idea that the architect Martín Gómez Platero wants to express is that “the human being is not the center of the ecosystem in which we live, as we will always be subordinate to nature.”
The beauty of this “world monument” is that it will commemorate all pandemics: the one we are experiencing, the ones we have forgotten, and the ones yet to come. It is a reminder that black swans, unpredictable events with extreme consequences, are also part of reality; And that, as my friend Janet learned and John Lennon sang, life (and sometimes death) is what happens while you make other plans.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism