Photograph: Jytte Holmqvist. Sweden, September 2020.

As COVID-19 continues to impact on nations across the globe and has forever changed the way we view the world around us  ̶ and our way of understanding and relating to our surroundings and society at large  ̶  our everyday reality of today is but a faint copy of reality as we knew it. Gone is collective spontaneity and abundant socialising, carefree and happy-go-lucky tendencies; gone is unconcerned touching and our occasionally joyful abandonment into the arms of a stranger whose embrace momentarily satisfied our need for physical connection as a way for us to spice up our intimate lives and explore alternatives. Gone, as well, is traveling for traveling’s sake and the physical and emotional bliss that ran through our veins, filled our lungs and livened up our hearts as we found ourselves seated comfortably on a plane taking us to faraway lands. Happiness was seemingly experienced all round as we held on to our tickets, strong in our conviction that we could connect with our loved ones at the click of a button; physically moving from A to B with no dark thoughts clouding our vision as the world seemed to grow closer day by day.

But alas, what remains in the aftermath of a piece of news that as it unravelled ̶ its magnitude slowly dawning on us  ̶  sent shock waves from Asia and across the globe, is a both individual and collective hoping and yearning for a paradise lost and for a lifestyle and state of the world that may be partly retrievable albeit in a very different shape and form. Hope, after all, is the last thing that abandons us and life really does begin at the end of our comfort zone. Our pandemic reality has left that clearer than ever as we are now forced to lead life differently in the midst of a surreal situation that seems here to stay  ̶  who knows for how long, who knows if forever; the virus still raging across the world as many countries now experience one wave after the other and grapple to understand how best to deal with the consequences and what government measures should be in place.

As we look away from the external and inward in search for a new meaning to being, as well as feeling, alive in the world today, we reassess our situation and realise as we find a sense of refuge in the rich cinematic world of Netflix thrillers and horror movies that not only do the on-screen ordeals faced by characters supposedly separated from us faze us much less these days, but we can now relate to the weirdness unfolding on screen on an almost personal level. In fact, our own off-screen reality resembles, to a large extent, the twisted universe that we encounter online and in the media. Odd protagonists and unexpected narrative twists and turns pop up and occur alongside our own strange reality ̶ until in the end the two worlds interconnect and merge into one extensive nightmarish surreality.

As we coincidentally this very year celebrate the birth of Italian master of absurdism and weirdness Federico Fellini (born in Rimini 1920), who relentlessly explored the space between dream and reality often drawing from his own experiences and childhood memories and beyond, we find commonalities between our own collective experience and the absurdist characters in a film like 8 ½ or cinematic piece of weirdness par excellence, Satyricon where Fellini begins by inserting the filmic narrative at a time somewhere “before Christ” but “after Fellini”. Our own reality is not a time before Christ but it may be a time leading up to a second coming of a Master (or should we say Maestro) that will teach us the way as we now tentatively begin to feel our way towards a new beginning and with that may be able to embrace new possibilities while we learn to value a life less frantic and a way of interconnecting based less on self-interest and more on genuine empathy for each other.

That is the wisdom gained from our ongoing COVID experience; if we relax into the silence between the words we realise less is more: less words, less action and more real connection heart to heart. “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” they say. Let’s make our new collective stepping forward into a new era while we explore new paths, a road paved with real insights, positive attitudes and good will. By embracing the weirdness with less reluctance and hesitation we should – bruised and tarnished – ultimately be able to get through these cinematic Sci-Fi times; still standing, still hoping, our world fundamentally changed but what else can we do than hope for a brighter horizon at the end of this new Road Less Traveled?