Article and image by Keiko Honda
Our last in-person gathering was two month ago, to be exact, and it was the 154th Artists-in-Residence (aka. AIR) salon, which gathered 30 people at my home. The AIR Series, inspired by the 17th century French salons and Gertrude Stein’s salons, has grown since 2010 into a vital part of life-long learning for myself and many over the years. I never dreamed of discontinuing AIR before the COVID-19 pandemic came. No one can avoid the unexpected.
This unplanned pause with the great unknown evoked some flashbacks of my long and dark days on the hospital bed about 13 years ago. Struck by the acute inflammation and sudden paralysis, I was homebound for at least a year, and went on to lead a 180-degree-turned life in a wheelchair. It was one of the rare moments of awakening in my life, to say the least. While I am still my own experiment, I have gained some personal convictions that this too shall pass and that a social support network is the key to thrive. It sounds cliche but holds all truths. Stripped down to the very existence, just breathing but not being able to move from my chest down, was a blessing in disguise, which gave me the permission to take good care of only the essential: how to relate to myself and others. I grasped the meaning of life and came back even stronger after my misfortune.
This time in 2020, my stay-at-home experience is not only a privilege but also a chance to put things in perspective. What is life? What is its purpose? What and why are we learning? Once again, I am reminded of the humility, kindness, creativity, and bravery of humans from all corners of the world as well as the generosity of nature. Every time I open my front door, I feel like the whole universe is unfolding right in front me – groceries picked up by my neighbours, One-Day Amazon Prime deliveries, some surprise flower bouquets, a cookie box with a hand-written note from my friend, and ever-changing front yard garden rush greens, random fresh scents and birds chirping. While staying at home safely, we are supported by the services and sacrifices of people some of whom we don’t even know. This period of self-isolation and physical distancing made us see so clearly how we, as individuals, cannot survive alone.
It is interesting to imagine that each coronavirus, consisting of a tiny set of genes (single-stranded RNA) enclosed by soft protein capsules looking like a spiky ball, is a tiny version of ourselves. Or vice versa. Despite being vulnerable on itself, the virus, especially the 2019 novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), is so successful as an intimate symbiont with its hosts by entering and copying itself inside a host cell to replicate its genetic material and proliferate. Do you know anyone who behaves like that? A baby, maybe? Their natural super ability to unite a whole family and world are a bit like the coronavirus. Jokes aside, what can we learn from the evolutionary capacity of SARS-CoV-2? Understanding the notion of interdependence and the dynamics of communication is paramount to the post-COVID aftermath. What are your wonderful ways of expressing who you are and connecting to others in this time? I personally find some silliness and humor instantaneously uniting and universally essential. Like viruses, we are made to communicate with each other in any way, shape or form in order to co-exist and co-create, not to compete or dominate. That is the only way to evolve as a life form.
While I am suspending the long-running AIR series until the day we can meet again, I am reluctant to rush to turn everything into “ZOOM” events for good reasons. This reflective pause is a gift to everyone, and I am taking this opportunity to strip away the layers (my fears in particular) and to engage in more symbiotic relationships. I often hear the remark, “We cannot go back to normal or business-as-usual.” It may be true for the case for excessive consumerism and environmental destruction and many other harms. But in many cases, we should not throw away all the great ordinary things and certain rituals that give our lives meaning and happiness. I miss my local coffee shop that I used to visit. A Japanese phrase, “the moss-covered rocks,” values and underscores the importance of relational continuity and its beauty. I am literally and figuratively holding space for the revival of the AIR series and looking forward to celebrating a more resilient sense of collective self. Until then, please take good care of yourselves, too.