It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Oh, how history repeats itself.
It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.
Just a quick walk in the park. No big deal.
It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
Winter 2020 seemed darker than usual.
Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities – from 1859 – contrasts a crumbling France under the weight of their revolution with a conversely prospering England.
In 2020, it seems the universe is staging its own revolution.
With COVID-19, the contrast isn’t across nations or cities but within the mind. In the face of a common enemy, we make new ones. Epictetus once said that “it isn’t events themselves that disturb people, but only their judgements about them.” The contrast in those interpretations has erected even more borders.
The “we’re all in this together” sentiment has a resounding echo. Like most things in our world, the wake of catastrophic events – mom, are we there yet? – reaches different shores in different forms.
It’s 5 o’clock everywhere, but many glasses remain empty. We may not have arrived here together, but we could leave together. Misery went stag to the party and has invited us all as her company.
It feels somewhat disingenuous to search for a silver lining during a pandemic. At worst, there isn’t one. At best, your privilege is showing. But any dark metaphorical lining seems to revolve around the mind – something, that for better or worse, unites us all. As we are all becoming intimate with our true selves – when am I going to meet your parents? – many are claiming to be developing positive habits, making acquaintances with their existential side, discovering what really matters.
But here’s the secret: none of it matters. None. Of. It.
Family. Relationships. Love. School. Work. Material Items. None of it matters. Not in and of themselves. We add the matter.
Why do you care about sports? They don’t really matter. How can someone spend so much money on a piece of art? On shoes or a golf membership? Is being in a band the best use of your time?
None of these things matters alone. They all are part of what forms our collective community – the same one that has been extradited to Coronaville. That community has a foundation of individual components, none of which have much significance when extracted from the whole. That is, what matters is a series of choices. Our decisions guide what is and is not important.
Collectively, we are that neighbourhood dog that had to get one of its legs amputated. As we gaze in the mirror with our own sad puppy eyes, we can see that dog walking in the background, content and seemingly completely oblivious to its disadvantage; the disadvantage is a perception from observers, not from within. As we’ve all witnessed, that dog gets up, dusts itself off, and lives a life its owners didn’t think possible at first.
French thinker Blaise Pascal famously stated “all men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quiet in a room alone.” Without busy distractions, are we afraid of what we’ll find?
Perhaps our fear is that we are not adaptable. That the storm cannot be weathered. That a new normal will be anything but. It is human nature to be fearful of a lack of control; to be thrust out of our comfort zones; to be struck by our own insecurities in the seeming misfortune of others.
History – and Dickens – tells us this is not the first storm, nor will it be the last. We may not control how it crashes ashore, but like meaning, adaptability is a decision.
We had everything before us, we had nothing before us.
It was the best of decisions, it was the worst of decisions.