As we enter into the third year of the COVID pandemic, I’m optimistic.
Did you know the flu epidemic/pandemic in the early 20th century lasted two years and perhaps beyond into a fourth wave?
What makes us think we’d be any different? Besides our vaccines, we have a lot more ways to get close and get infected.
It’s so easy to think the horrible will never end, the future is bleak and that it won’t EVER be as good as it was.
When I catch myself going down this rabbit hole I’m reminded of what the late, great Stephen Sondheim lyricized in the vastly underrated Merrily We Roll Along.
…That’s what everybody does
Blame the way it is on the way it was
On the way it never ever was…
On a lighter metaphor, movies were not supposed to exist once television was born and theatre, well, that would soon be spoken as widely as Latin.
So much for prophecy.
Movies are still here but the way we access them have changed. The same with theatre. And television. And music.
Who remembers DVDs, VCRs, eight tracks, tape decks and…radio?
I mean, radio as a primary art form that’s on the front page or brain of anything?
But on that latter point, who listens to PODCASTS?
You are so no better than your great grandparents.
Social media is not the revolutionary means to the end of the world but the evolution of a world where change knows no end.
Yeats famously prophesized in a 1919 poem, the center cannot hold and we’re still here.
This despite the fact that phrase was pilfered and rephrased by any number of 1960s social revolutionaries who saw the end coming, and was recently used as the title of the Netflix doc on the life of writer Joan Didion, The Center Will Not Hold.
Totalitarian reign and pushback. They leave Afghanistan, we desert Afghanistan. Our weapons of mass destruction, they lied about weapons of mass destruction, our existence teeters on the brink of mass destruction.
This is not to minimize any one of the above issues or their many cousins that are nipping at the heels of all of our destructions.
It is simply to remember that despite all of these changes certain core issues and ways of humanity are ALWAYS the same.
It’s simply the players, scenery and mode of import that makes it feel different. To US.
I imagine this is what both Sondheim AND Betty White knew well before their ends.
On that note, it’s hard to lose our beloved elders, isn’t it? But by anyone’s measure, living to 91 and 99 is almost more than we can ask given the realities of human frailty. Yet, we never get enough of people we love, like and admire from afar and near.
This is a particularly heart ripping truth when it comes to our closest friends, family and loved ones.
Death can be random and cruel, particularly when it comes to the young, but it’s also rote and predictable. It’s always been the way of the world. We can extend life a bit but THAT will also NEVER change.
At least as far as we know.
Which brings us back to the exciting but scary part that has so many of us freaking out about 2022; what we DON’T know.
Which is….A LOT.
My late second Mom, an avid reader, once told me when I was feeling hopeless and down that life was like a great book, you never know what will happen when you turn the page.
Expect the unexpected, weather the storm of horribleness and celebrate every second of luck and good fortune that will inevitably come your way.
If this sounds like a Forest Gumpism, a movie I could never stomach, it doesn’t to me. Her advice wasn’t akin to life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get, even though it might be read this way now. Rather than being about the randomness of life, I took it as the certainty that a good piece of story will always deliver to you; the ups and downs, the inescapable heartache and the always to be counted on moments of joy.
Though perhaps, for me, it was simply the book/story metaphor. I could relate a lot more to that than some stupid container of processed sugar able to undo you or reward you beyond your wildest dreams depending on what road you decided to paw.
It could have also been the messenger.
My second Mom, meaning my stepmom – a parental figure who only becomes such by coincidence of marriage but can truly emerge as a lot more than that depending on who they and you are – was not a habitual advice giver and problem solver. Though always, she was honest. Some would say to a fault.
So when she took the time to challenge me with a metaphor of what life truly was (and would be) it compelled me to listen. And woke me up from my malaise in an instant.
I think this idea is what sustains me through so many problematic moments, both personal and societal.
That the secret is that not one of us, the most talented or smartest or even both that any human can be, will solve any of these issues on our own. Nor are we likely to even manage to get through them.
We depend on each other. Not only the people we love and trust but on all of those charlatans who we loathe.
The best of them show us the way to survive and grow. The worst of them try and seduce us into drowning in their bile and cynicism.
Not that I haven’t been known to be a cynic or offered my own bile out into the world, dressed up and spewed out as wisdom at times.
It takes a long time, often a lifetime, to become wise enough to understand what is being offered (and why) from each source and to move forward in the best way possible. And I believe the most difficult part of this is recognizing that you – yourself – can be quite an unreliable narrator.
They (Note: Whoever THEY are) say trust yourself, but that doesn’t always work. When you suspect you – yourself – are not to be trusted you need to turn to people like your second Mom, one among a small handful of someone elses that we all need to cultivate, that inner circle of truth, and then decide what the best options are.
You can’t sit all alone in your room and figure it all out yourself. That’s myopic and creepy and just plain dumb. And it will NEVER get you through 2022 in any sort of meaningful or even pleasing way.
Once I realized this small fact and made it into a strategy, I became more optimistic.
A group effort with you at the helm but never as sole narrator and dictator, benevolent though you might think you are.
No ONE of us is to be entirely trusted. But together, with the benefits of our small group (Note: Which doesn’t mean isolating from the thoughts and logic of the rest of the world at large), we will see a way forward.
Through 2022 and into plots twists and turns we never could have imagined or pulled off by ourselves.