It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Because, well, you can’t go wrong with a good Dickens quote!
So, anyway, getting to my post…
Err, more specifically, getting to reactions to my last post: either I’m an over-reacting loon who is trying to turn a “minor flu” into the Black Death…or, I’m an under-reacting loon who is trying to turn the “the new Black Death” into the common cold.
As a writer, by the way, if you ever manage to piss off both political/cultural sides, you’re probably doing something right.
I’m gonna let both sides keep going in their preferred brands of tunnel vision, by the way, without further addressing that particular topic. Nope, instead I want to touch on something that we can all* pretty much agree on: we’ve had it pretty damned good.
*Yeah, right, all. When did all of us ever agree on any-freaking-thing?!
One of the consequences of this epidemic may — hopefully — be a return of the hard-won wisdom that we have lost over the years and decades. Look, let’s boil it down to the basics — it is, depending on our age, our grandparents or great-grandparents who last had to learn the hard lessons of survival amidst disaster. It was they who last had to truly learn how to be self-sufficient and careful. It was they who last had to well-and-truly worry about care and consequences and the cold, bitter hand of reality smacking them on a daily basis.
For those of us born in the US or Western Europe in the last 75 years or so? Yeah, we’ve had it pretty freaking good. Be honest — at least with yourself, if you can’t be honest with anyone else — who among us has had to truly learn the need for savings? Who among us has had to truly worry about the damned world ending? Who among us has had to develop a personal relationship with fear and disaster, and life lived on the knife’s edge of death?
Oh, I’ve courted death…I’ve been in situations where my life was on that knife’s edge for survival. No, I never fought in a war — wrong brother for that one! — but I have done stupid shit, beyond frolicking with bears and chasing wolves. I’ve done stupid shit like hike this trail in the midst of a biblical thunderstorm:
As I was saying, I’ve been on the edge of disaster, but — and this is the important bit — I CHOSE that edge. I chose it every single time. Worse (or better, depending on your outlook), I chose to walk that edge in situations in which I was knowledgable and in control. I did not have it thrust upon me. I did not have the Universe itself cry out to me, “You think that’s bad? Hold my beer!”
My grandparents did. Like so many others of their generation, they lived through the best of times, and the worst. The rest of us? Yeah, the “worst of times” has not really been on the radar. Not yet, anyway.
Let’s be clear, COVID-19 is not the worst of times. It’s not even close. If you want the worst of times, go re-study what the Bubonic Plague did to the world.
What this current epidemic is, however, is a nice little reminder of just what could happen. It is a Black Swan event to clue us in to just how bad shit really could get.
We’ve been complacent. We’ve been comfortable. We’ve been, if you want brutal honesty, soft. We’ve had it too good for too long.
We have to re-learn the wisdom that we’ve spent so many years disparaging. We have to re-learn the value of saving, of having money put aside to cover our asses when the world falls apart. We have to re-learn the necessity of being able to handle our own stuff: to fix a leaky faucet, to repair minor car problems, to protect our friends and family. Crap, a huge percentage of our population has to re-learn the ability to simply walk a mile!
To be even more gloomy-blunt — for when things really do go to hell — we have to re-learn to forage and hunt, and to survive. A common isolation joke in my little corner of Montana is, “Who cares if the store is closed? I’ve got plenty of ammunition…”
And, no, I’m not going all join-a-militia-in-Idaho crazy, thank you very much. What I’m saying is that COVID-19 is a reminder that the worst really can happen. Our forebears learned that lesson the hard way, and now we have to, as well.
Musical Note — the song below, for those of you who disparage video games (for which I’ve written, goddammit!), is from the soundtrack of a game. It’s a great song, off a great soundtrack album, and it kinda fits our world of isolation and quarantine and looming disaster: