The Nursery Rhymes of 2020
The coronavirus reminds us we’re more alike than we’d care to believe.
How in the world could they have made this a children’s song?
I remember saying this the first time I had come to learn the folklore meaning behind a song I’d danced to dozens and dozens of times. A song I’d in turn dance to with kids as a volunteer in summer programs.
A song that, with an arrogant snide, I considered beyond the progress of where we are today as a society.
I (we) were wrong.
There’s a tendency nowadays to not only have concepts of cultural superiority, but of generational superiority as well. It’s nothing new.
Prior to the world wars, the Enlightenment foretold of utopian society in the name of progress. Then bloodshed happened and gave room for dystopian storytelling. Because if we couldn’t have it, no one could.
We read about genocides in previous generations and think it not possible, then it happens again with the numbers of displaced peoples at their highest in history.
We shake our heads at the enslavement of human beings and believe we are much closer to a dream than we were 60 years ago, then we learn of child labor, human trafficking and systemic norms just as prevalent now.
Mental health experts say that the journey of grief includes a place for finding meaning after the loss. Trauma specialists ask questions and utilize practices to help reframe traumatic events.
We ask incredulously how the events of Black Death in 1340-Europe could lead to a children’s nursery rhyme. But if there’s one thing that history teaches us, it’s that it is all made up of humans — who tend to approach life with the same motives and drive.
Regardless of its true origins or intent (many would argue the meaning of the nursery rhyme was interpreted well after its inception), some consider the following lines to paint the circumstances associated with a pneumonic pandemic from the Middle Ages:
Ring around a rosie // A pocket full of posies // Ashes, ashes // We all fall down.
Does it matter if the song really isn’t about the Great Plague? And what’s any of this have to do with the coronavirus and the reality that one third of the world’s population is under some form of sheltering-in-place?
I think it matters because they’re reminders that we’re all human and meaning seekers. If there’s a positive world-shifting aftereffect from this crisis, I hope it’s a deeper embracing of these truths.
We’re all human. All the distasteful things, the things we think us incapable of doing again, we still have the propensity to do.
We’re all human. All the meaning making, the storytelling and creativity that brings life in the midst of loss and happiness over hopelessness, we still have the propensity to do.
We’re not writing nursery rhymes or reinterpreting songs as coded meaning from the European response to bubonic plague, but what will future generations say of this time in human history? How will it be labeled? What art forms will be associated with it — even if they didn’t come from now?
Because we’re still human. We’re still creating meaning. They’re just memes in 2020.
Memes to reframe quarantining:
To deal with going to the grocery store for paper products:
To find respite from staring at computer screens:
To not feel bad about buying way more food than necessary:
Each of these memes, separated from their times, stand on their own. Quarantines existed prior to 2020. Zoom meetings happen regardless. And chubby babies make anyone smile.
But what they hold for each of us, right now, today, is meaning at a time when normalcy is disrupted and loss — in whatever form(s) it take(s) — is very real.
May they give you permission to grieve, promotion to create, and perspective to be a little more forgiving for those that came before us and more understanding when those after us think we too were nuts — yet human.
(We’re taking on for the first time [from our perspective] the complexity, celebration and devastation that is life. And so will they.)
If a song can motivate perseverance, maybe memes can too.