Here’s a curious fact about our new world. Everything that was topsy is now turvy and what is turvy is now topsy.
Take masks. Who could have imagined that a walk through the park on a Spring day with everyone masked would not only feel normal, but welcomed? Up until 10 weeks ago, a masked person meant:
1) A thief or terrorist trying to hide their identity while causing great harm in the world.
2) A women made to hide her fully-blossomed self by collective macho bullies riding their high horse of male privilege.
3) A whistle blower made to shut-up by people in power afraid of the truth.
So what was once used to maintain unearned privilege and power, to hide so one can cause harm, to shut people down and make them smaller, is now used to protect each other from life-threatening germs. Today wearing a mask is an act of kindness and consideration. The topsy is now turvy.
Then there’s computers. Screens that once were distractions, barriers between direct intimate connection, seductions into sensation and addiction, that promoted dysfunctional chat-room interactions with no eye-contact or consequences for hate-speech and flaming, that encouraged us to write meaningless jabber to strangers when we don’t even know our neighbor’s names,
are now the primary means of staying connected with our fellow human beings. How different this sheltering would be without Zoom. (Though perhaps schools would become socially-distanced neighborhood gatherings where everyone becomes teacher/student/ colleague, sharing their knowledge and their pleasure in getting to share their knowledge).
I remember once passing the old Crissy Field in San Francisco and watching enormous bulldozers at work. Usually, such machines would destroy natural habitat to build an ugly unnecessary shopping center with a Walmart. Now they were breaking up the asphalt of an old military airplane runway to restore the land to a wetlands and call back the birds. Power in service of life, the reversal of the usual norms.
So if a mask can suddenly become an act of community protection, a glowing screen a means of keeping our communities protected, a bulldozer a way to invite birds back into the human community, then we may have learned finally about what is important and consider what was previously unimaginable. Things like music rising to a new status in schools as important—and perhaps more so—as math scores. Of scientists side-by-side with poets so the facts about what we need to physically survive are married to how we are to spiritually weather the storms. Of the health of the community finally put far above corporate greed and profit in all decisions made in Congress. Of understanding that resilience and flexible thinking and imagination are the faculties that education needs to nurture far above the bean-counting of right answers on meaningless tests. Of the clumsiness of turvy-topsy restored to the more musical topsy-turvy as the masks come off, the screens are given rest and the gloves of long-distance learning removed as we embrace once more in unmediated connection and communion.
And the term “topsy-turvy?” Comes from the carnival rides where people are turned upside down—the top becomes the bottom. (Turvy from “terve” which means to overturn). It also means a state of utter confusion. But in that upside down state, one sees the world from a new perspective and returns to rightside-up with expanded vision and renewed appreciation.
Let us hope.