written by Rie Linton
Most people would agree that the year 2020 has been a very difficult year. With millions of people living in hundreds of countries leading very different lives, we suddenly found ourselves bound together by something smaller than imaginable. A heretofore unknown virus struck in literally every country on earth. The disparities that separated the humans on this planet suddenly found themselves with a common enemy – Covid 19.
With countries beginning lockdowns and others boasting they would not need one, only to recant and go into lockdown themselves, the Chinese New year slipped past. The first of the Chinese cycle, this year was perhaps the least celebrated in at least one century. Epidemics occur in practically every country each year but this epidemic struck all nations within a relatively short matter of months, hence the term “pandemic.” The year 2020 became not the Year of the Rat, as noted on the Chinese calendar, but rather a year of the pandemic, a year of fear, a year of death and anguish.
The Year of the Rat, more correctly known as the Year of the Metal Rat, snuck in without the fanfare usually accompanying the Chinese New Year. There are different Years of the Rat. Like the rest of Chinese tradition, the Year of the Rat is influenced by four elements – metal, water, wood, and fire. The Year of the Rat is first in the Chinese Zodiac cycle because of a party. According to one popular myth, The Jade Emperor held a party and decided the order of the zodiac would be determined by the order in which all invited animals arrived at his party. The Rat tricked the ox into giving him a ride but just as they approached the party site, the Rat jumped off and rushed in ahead of the ox and became the first arrival. The Rat is considered part of Yang and represents the beginning of a new day. The rat is also seen in Chinese culture as representing wealth and culture.
Some folks are even making outrageous claims that the new coronavirus causing the pandemic was engineered in a lab and deliberately released to make people sick. A new study debunks such claims by providing scientific evidence that this novel coronavirus arose naturally. In this the year of the Rat, nature has taken the world by storm in the form of one little virus.
Covid-19 is a virus classified as a Corona virus, due to the spiked appearance of its proteins, necessary to infect other cells. Under a microscope, they appear to form a crown and the Latin term for crown is ‘corona.” Research conducted independently has shown that the backbone of the new coronavirus’s genome most closely resembles that of a bat coronavirus discovered after the COVID-19 pandemic began. However, the region that binds ACE2 resembles a novel virus found in pangolins, a strange-looking animal sometimes called a scaly anteater. This provides additional evidence that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 almost certainly originated in nature. If the new coronavirus had been manufactured in a lab, scientists most likely would have used the backbones of coronaviruses already known to cause serious diseases in humans.
It is equally possible though,that this virus has existed in humans long before the year 2020 but it has just this year gained the ability to affect human health. As a result of gradual evolutionary changes over years or perhaps decades, this virus has eventually gained the ability to spread from human-to-human and cause serious, often life-threatening disease. Both scenarios are actually good news because it means we can control the spread by three simple steps – physical distancing, wearing a mask to prevent airborne transmission, and frequent and thorough sanitization practices.
Thus the Year of the Rat, though based upon a natural animal, has actually had an adverse effect on the rats population in many countries – a benefit frequently overlooked. Rats usually rely on restaurant trash for food sources and with restaurants closed during lockdowns, the rat population has been decimated due to starvation. Those born during the Year of the Rat are thought to be characterized by liking a quiet, simple lifestyle – something we have all been living with lockdowns and shelter at home policies enacted worldwide. It has been a most difficult and unpleasant time for all.
What if, on the other hand, we one day look back on this time and realize it was a blessing in some ways? What if we realize we failed to take advantage of the respite it afforded? Maybe the retreat is a personal and corporate reset opportunity. The purpose of every retreat is to fulfill basic human potential. Have we used these months as a retreat or merely to complain?
It is commonly believed that a retreat enhances our wisdom. Spiritual retreats are designed to assist in connecting with wisdom, love, compassion, and self-control, all qualities that allow one to maintain perspective. Every faith tradition has the tradition of a retreat, a time taken to discover and reconnect. A spiritual retreat can be defined most simply as a definite spent away from one’s normal life for the purpose of introspection.
What if 2020 has afforded us all a retreat – a time to spend time with ourselves, to identify with what we hold to be important. History will surely be both compassionate and judgmental in how many have approached this pandemic and in policies enacted and those not followed. We will all have stories of this year to pass along to others but what if, perhaps in just a small way, once we return to “normal” we miss it just a little? What if we look back and realize lost opportunity?
We have lived the past several months without those habits, occupations, manner of living we all thought were necessary, only to discover we could do without some things and found new ways to create others. What we have not lost, even in death, has been ourselves – our beliefs upon which we are to do everything. What if we take advantage of this respite the pandemic has gifted us to pursue rather than protest, to seek rather than object? The legacy of those passed is the goodness and wisdom with which they lived. What if we incorporated some of that into this retreat we are living? Instead of lamenting about yesteryear, what if we look for the beauty of now? What if we lived our faith instead of our fear? What if we miss this time of opportunity to grow and adapt when we are living 2020?