According to Emily Dickinson, “to be alive is so amazing, there’s hardly time for anything else.”

I think I know what she meant.

One of the gifts of the current coronavirus crisis is to force an awareness of the fragile wonder of simply being alive, of what it is to be mortal. Gift? In the face of so much pain, bereavement, economic ruin and uncertainty? Really?

Well, it depends how you choose to face the present reality. It won’t go away, will it? Wishing it was different won’t change anything. We can direct our anger and grief at the people we want to criticise: government, politicians, scientists who can’t agree, people who break the rules. Or we can take the opportunity to appreciate afresh how fragile life actually is.

I heard from a friend the other day who tells me that the sheer business of ‘normal’ life has been useful in keeping the hard questions at bay. Just keeping going has offered a convenient firewall, enabling him to avoid asking if all the activity, work, relentless pressure is really what his life should be about. Strip it all away and the questions can’t so easily be avoided.

Not everyone is at the same place. And you can’t compel anyone to ask questions they don’t want to ask. But, forced by circumstances to stay at home (and run meetings on Zoom), I intend to think hard about how I shall live and work and prioritise in a changed future. I need to think again about the value of what I used to think mattered most.

For, having often maintained that the beginning of freedom for human beings is the acceptance of mortality (and its implications), and faced by the existential challenges of so many people’s current suffering, I can only then go on to ask the consequent questions of why I matter and how I should then live.

Being alive is a gift not to be taken for granted or squandered.