Anna Kasafi Perkins
The University of the West Indies, Mona; St Michael’s Theological College, Kingston
‘We put off this mortal coil’: The Body in COVID
In a letter to the Editor of the Jamaica Observer, entitled “Epidemiology, theology, and COVID-19,” one George S Garwood argues, “That is the absolute necessity for there to be the eternity of matter and energy — call it God if one wishes. If that, then, is the case, we can be consoled by the assurance that when ‘we put off this mortal coil’ we return to our eternal home — the cosmos” (March 24, 2020). Garwood’s reflection on life, mortality and the afterlife, in light of COVID, points to fundamental questions about the body, which perhaps are little countenanced in the face of the deeply riven inequalities that divide Caribbean and other societies; such inequalities are thrown into stark relief by the pandemic but are not unrelated to questions of the body. Indeed, the virus attacks physical bodies but also communal bodies, racialized bodies, gendered bodies – disproportionately.
This reflection by an African-descended Caribbean Roman Catholic woman questions the meaning of the body – “this mortal coil” – as it has been laid bare(r) by the pandemic. Drawing on actual cases arising from the pandemic in the Caribbean, it questions the fundamental value given to bodies in space and place – gendered bodies, loose bodies, poor bodies, dead bodies, essential bodies … How meaningful is the notion of “mortal coil” – often mistaken as biblical – in such an exploration?