Mexico is a good place to be staying alive during this worldwide pandemic. Let me explain: Recently I watched a video interview with the German painter, Anselm Kiefer. He’s in his mid-seventies now. The point of the conversation was to determine what, after a long and successful career, most rewarded this artist.
Kiefer opened his response by talking about his first communion as a nine or 10-year-old child in the Catholic Church. After looking forward to it eagerly for months, he found that when the event arrived he felt nothing. The kind of experience he’d been looking for, a spiritual one, if not necessarily a religious one, was what he later regularly experienced when he finished a painting that worked.
As the painter of nearly 300 pictures and the author of 44 books, I understood this statement perfectly. What I also discovered is that the creative experience can also be a sustaining one in tough times like these. Until the epidemic started last year I had never realized how upsetting I would find the uncertain performance of government. It was in February of 2020 that I said the silliest thing I have ever said, “At least a pandemic on this scale is something they will never be able to politicize.” Now we can see how it was taken as the greatest opportunity to generate political capital ever.
Living in Mexico, as I have for the past fourteen years, has provided me with many aspects of this culture to enjoy, but until recently I had never considered its psychological and cultural distance from the United States to be one of them. The much more laid-back response of the Mexican government has been easier to take by far. There has been no assault on civil liberties. The increasing polarization in the United States is a grim example for all of us who live south of the border. Like many other problems, the pandemic is one best solved anywhere by cooperation and joint effort. Instead it has become in the north an occasion for creating even deeper divisions.
Of course, we all must have a response to this disaster on an individual level, if only to combat the self-imposed isolation and alienation that arises from social distancing. I have my writing and my painting, and each day I can’t wait to get into each one. In 2020 I wrote five books. I am certain that similar options, whether in the arts, in sports, or any other rewarding activity, can await anyone who is looking for a way to rise above our current condition.
My sense is that on an individual level Mexicans tend to toss off this crisis somewhat more easily than Americans, but I can’t prove that. Certainly, their mortality rate is no better. It may be that there’s a sense of the role fate plays in their lives that has the effect of lowering their expectations. I do know from many conversations with expats down here that many of them have undergone a process of reinvention, particularly those who have been here for some time. This may make them less vulnerable to the kind of conflict process going on in the U.S. right now.
The bottom line is that I am more thankful now for living in this country than I ever have been. The current crucible that we’re going through illustrates, more than anything I can think of, the value of a traditional culture, one with values resistant to change. One where family and community are still valued over politics.
This is a good place to be staying alive.