It was the 20th day of the ordinance of lockdown when Zarathustra, that renowned prophet of postmodernism, reflected that during that time his flock in the neighbouring villages might be missing his counsel. It was not that he didn’t consider his engagement with the community to be “essential” travel meriting the few hours drive in his Lamborghini. Nor surely was the fact that he had just finished watching the Game of Thrones box set the previous evening after consuming both series 7 and 8 in one day, anything to do with the sudden pang of concern he felt for his flock. No, it was surely just his natural pastoral instinct kicking in.
So it was he found himself a few hours later in his favourite village square, except that to his chagrin he found it devoid of people. How could he minister to them if none had bothered to show up? Truth to tell, he should probably have foreseen this eventuality. But to tell truth to one who is by disposition and vocation a prophet is not an easy thing, so the situation was as it was. Somewhat fortuitously a young lad on a skateboard rolled by just at that time and the prophet hailed him.
“Young man, I mean person, where are all the village people this day?” he inquired. “Are they all engaged in the rite of self-isolation?” “Not all, sir!” came back the answer. “They are most of them out on the green at the other side of the village.” And before any other questions could be asked, the lad was off.
It was a congenial walk of only a few minutes to the other side of the village, the air was fresh and clear and the early spring sunshine kissed the ground gently. Notwithstanding, the prophet opted to drive there, feeling his patience starting to get frayed. And lo! It was as the lad had said. The entire village seemed to have congregated on the green and were spread around on picnic mats and fold-out chairs in little family groups of two to five, partaking of lunch with a buzz of cheerful conversation. The prophet struggled to keep his rage at their joviality in check as he walked to the centre of the green, the crowds parting either side of him like the Red Sea to a safe two-meter distance before closing in again behind him. By the time he had arrived at the midpoint he had been noticed by the major part of those present and an awed silence had fallen, as it seemed, in the expectation that the prophet had come to address them with some timely words of encouragement in their time of travail.
However, all was not as it seemed, because those present knew this was not the prophet’s way and that he had surely come rather to regale them over some misdemeanour or inappropriate attitude he had detected. “My good people, do you know what time it is?” he began softly. “It is a quarter to one, sire,” offered one eager-looking lady helpfully. ” “I speak of the importance of the time!” intoned the prophet, fixing her with a beady stare.” At this her husband in a flustered tone sought to make amends for his wife’s indiscretion: “Darling, what he means is to remind us that today is of course Easter Day.”
The hapless fellow came very close to having the wrath of Zarathustra descend on his head, but the prophet judged (correctly as it turned out) that the verbal lashing he would endure subsequently from his wife for his ill-judged attempt at “man-splaining” would be punishment enough. Instead he turned and addressed the crowd as a whole. “Do you not know that today is the twentieth day of the providence of lockdown? And that it is written in the law that the statutes of the lockdown are to be obeyed by all, that all might experience grace thereby?” With this assertion no one ventured to disagree. “So by observance of these statutes must you show your virtue. Not one jot or tittle should you omit to observe.”
At this point there were some murmurs of discontent. One brave soul spoke up, expressing what was in the mind of no small number of those present, although most dared not express it. “But this law, it is a hard thing,” he began. “The children do not understand why they cannot play outside. And some of the elderly are beside themselves with loneliness.” The prophet was having none of this. “What? Do you imagine in your self-centred delusion that the law was brought into existence to serve your interests? No, you were brought into existence to serve the law. For only in obedience to the law will sinners be made righteous.”
At this another brave but foolhardy woman hazarded to challenge him further: “But is it not right that we show good neighbourliness and community spirit to help each other through these difficult times?” The prophet was having none of this either. “What profiteth it a person to be a good neighbour or show community spirit? If you are not bound by every jot and tittle of the law, you are but a clanging cymbal or a sounding ….” The phrase escaped him momentarily, then it came to him: “… or a Big Ben bong on Brexit night. That’s right.”
This imagery, however apt it might have seemed when it popped into his head, had the unfortunate effect of triggering an avalanche of other ideas, which now rushed forth uncontrolled. “So do not be like the populists who imagine that because they are reviled of men, doxxed and de-friended for defending their ‘community’ interests they have attained virtue; or that by their discipleship in this or that church they shall be justified. No, there is but one path by which we can be made whole again and society’s ills healed.” He was getting up a real head of steam now, yet he found himself hesitating because the conclusion of so many of his sermons were by this point jostling within his mind as to which was the true path to righteousness. (Such a difficult question to address, never mind answer, from a postmodern perspective).
As it happened he was pre-empted by a middle-aged hipster swigging on a bottle of Corona Light who jumped to his feet enthusiastically and delivered the conclusion the populace had been awaiting expectantly: “Stay home! Save lives! Protect the NHS! Yeah!” At this point the Corona effect kicked in (the beer, not the virus) and he fell over in a stupor. No matter, before the words were out of his mouth the whole crowd was on its feet chanting ecstatically in unison. Anything further the prophet might have wanted to say was drowned out by the throng.
It was clear at this point that he had no option but to admit defeat and, rather than having them take his advice as was his wont, to take their advice instead. So it was, unnoticed by anyone but a solitary skateboarder (who was careful to keep himself a considerably greater distance apart than the statute of lockdown prescribed), that he slipped back to his car and headed for home that he might better save lives and protect the NHS from in front of his television with the newly unwrapped box set of “Friends” …and two packs of Corona Light for good measure.
Disclaimer: references to Zarathustra in the above are an allusion to the eponymous protagonist of Friedrich Nietzche’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra” and not to the Iranian religious reformer and prophet, traditionally regarded as the founder of Zoroastrianism.