Of course we’re all longing to fly the nest again, writes film-maker, novelist and lecturer TERRY WESTBY-NUNN. But what does our longing encompass and imply? What does it take for granted? And, in the end, should we be indulging it?
Itend to build nests of words to comfort me. Magpie-like, I have an eye for shiny words – luminous creatures that I can weave into shimmery, decorative sentences. Sometimes, though, I turn away from the sparkly trinket words, and find comfort in the bare simplicity of a sentence: its plain-faced beauty.
Nests are such curious things. It amazes me that birds can shape twigs and grass and mud into homes where they shelter from predators and the long dark nights. The dawn always comes, the Earth rolling smoothly on its axis as it makes its way around the sun, and there is something bewitching about the first exuberant birdsong breaking through the murky half-light of sunrise. The call for the world to wake, for the creatures of the day to take flight into the light and make their oh-so-busy way through the snippet of time we have in this world.
If only our lives were as simple as this now: to fly with the light and return at night. We’re no longer governed by society’s circadian rhythms. A predator is on the loose; it longs to live and replicate – and searches hungrily for hosts. We have burrowed into our nests and curled up in fear. We long for the predator to pass, but it rattles our masks and hovers at the edges of the window frames. Airborne – but what exactly does that mean? How long can it live without a host? Can wind carry it through the city streets?
Our tiny invisible enemy.
I remember studying viruses in biology at school. What curious things they are, I thought. They have no other purpose but to replicate and remain alive. But now that I think about it, I suppose that is probably the purpose of all living things. I’m certain the virus enjoys partying in our bodies as much as we enjoy partying on our planet. It’s just that we don’t kill our hosts – do we? The parallels are strange when looked at from afar. I’m not saying humanity is a virus, but perhaps I am. Perhaps I no longer know what to say when I think of empty nests – of the bird species that have flown their last flight. Of the nesting we will likely have to do in the future because we’ve literally mainlined fossil fuels and taken too many flights.
But do not think about all this now. Now is not the time. You are already planning your next holiday. You’re annoyed that I’m lecturing you (it’s what I do now), and you’re already taking flight into another future, where you’ll climb off a metal bird in a distant land and finally tear off your mask. You’ll crack open a bottle of Champagne from France, eat olives from Italy, drink coffee from Java, and nest in the comfort of a well-deserved beach holiday. After all, you’ve earned it. You’ve suffered for it. You were forced to nest for far too long – and you needed to stretch your wings.