Memento Mori, Memento Loci

Satoshi Ikeuchi, Professor, Religion and Global Security, University of Tokyo

The world is aiming for a gradual return to a normal life from COVID-19 lockdowns. The new normal life seems not the same as the previous one. The “Post-Corona” era, fully away from restrictions, is unlikely to come shortly.

We have to live “With-Corona” age for the foreseeable future in which COVID-19 is always near us and easily come back to us, and our life is susceptible to sudden shutdowns necessitated by occasional upticks of numbers infected within the community.

What have we learned from the last three months’ experience?

Memento mori, a Latin expression, which means “remember death” or “remember that you will die,” might be what occurred to many of us repetitiously when the number of infections rose exponentially worldwide, deprived of reliable clues to understand if and when we can cope with it.

We were reminded of the fact that our cozy lives are actually closely side by side with innumerable unknown causes of deaths and the abyss are always gaping beside us.

Another basic fact of life we had been forgotten for a long time till we were reminded of by this diffusion of contagion was the fact that we are still bound to our places, usually places of origins.

I like the startling Arabic expression Masqat Ra’sa-k, which literally means “where your head is fallen” and is turned to mean “birthplace,” which suggests us how we are bound by the accidental but determinant fact of where we’ve happened to fall upon.

Since the end of the Cold War era, we have been living in an age when the utmost freedom of movement was guaranteed. The past decade or so can be described as the most frequent flying age in the human history, with the rapid growth of cheap LCC industry and the electronical tickets which became universally accessible through Internet and smartphones. Number of passengers across the nation-states’ boundaries was continuously growing and that trend was further accelerating at the time when it made a steep plunge, caused by the global air-traffic freeze.

Since the lockdowns, we have been living in a confined and compartmentalized life and, little by little, we may have been used to it.

Forced to live within each of our countries, each of our cities, each of our alleys, or even each of our homes and rooms, we are regaining the sense of the place to which we happened to live are inevitably bound to.

Memento Loci or “Remember Your Place” is new motto for the people who inevitably live with COVID-19 for the foreseeable future.