The Lord of the Flies, written by William Golding in 1951, tells the story of a fictional plane crash on a Pacific island. The surviving boys, instead of working together and tending the rescue fire, devolve into chaos, cruelty and killing. The depths to which they sank made their rescuers weep. The premise is that in times of crisis, the powerful will prevail by force and manipulation, with the weak suffering the consequences.
Early in the ongoing COVID crisis, senseless hoarding and supermarket fights over toilet paper provided substance to the thesis of The Lord of the Flies.
However, there is a similar but true story which better describes our current crisis.
In June 1965, six restless pupils from St Andrew’s School in Nuku‘alofa, Tonga, decided to skip school. They stole a boat, put to sea, and fell asleep. After a storm and eight days without water, the boat was wrecked on the small uninhabited island of Ata.
Immediately the six agreed to work in teams of two, drawing up a strict roster for garden, kitchen and guard/fire duty. They solved disputes constructively. Their days were bookended with song and prayer. One day a boy slipped, fell off a cliff and broke his leg. The others rescued him, set his leg with branches, and nursed him to health. They kept the rescue fire alight for 15 months, until the smoke was sighted by a passing ship. All of Tonga rejoiced at their rescue.
The real Ata narrative is opposite to the destructive and fictional account of Lord of the Flies. The fact that the true story involves a society where family, community, and faith are held highly is undoubtedly a factor.
The COVID crisis is teaching us that violence and greed do not need to triumph. Good people striving together have been able to transform this crisis. Most of us by now have anecdotes of random acts of kindness and generosity being conducted among strangers. We have been patient and forgiving beyond our normal limits, accepting inconvenience and disruption to our plans for the greater good of humanity. We have recognised that we are neither in control nor masters of our own destiny. Through this world wide suffering, our eyes have been opened to a different world with new possibilities.
In the wake of the 1916 Dublin Uprising, the words W.B.Yeats wrote are as relevant now as then:
Now and in time to be, Wherever green is worn, Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
We are slowly emerging from the tragedy of the COVID crisis. Let us make sure
it was all worthwhile.
‘For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.’
1 Corinthians 13.12
Director of Mission