Andersen: ‘May you live in interesting times …’
This expression stems from a Chinese curse implying that life is better in “uninteresting times,” those all-too-rare intervals of peace and tranquility thinly sandwiched between the norms of violence and social upheavals.
Today’s “interesting times” are unprecedented as old ways fail to meet new challenges. As monolithic, centralized markets collapse, it is time to reconsider localized, divergent economies based on local productivity and resources. As social distancing warrants, it is time to reconsider enriching our lives right here at home.
Fear and dread are stalking our communities, and unless you’re immune to both public sentiment and COVID-19, the mood of foreboding is palpable. So we dutifully self-quarantine, we social distance at 6 feet apart, we avoid public gatherings of 10 or more, we wash our hands.
Washing one’s hands has never been more preoccupying than it is today. The flow of warm water, the smell of soap and sanitizers, the act of cleansing — these will be among the things we carry from this pandemic.
Some argue that coronavirus is fake news … or media hype … or a plot by evil liberals to undermine Donald Trump’s presidency. Some pass it off as a mere annoyance.
“Truth is what becomes undeniable,” writes Robert Crichton in his novel, “The Secret of Santa Vittoria.” The emergent truths we are facing every day are undeniable as we restructure social relationships and rethink cultural mores.
I’m reading Crichton’s novel as a diversion from a lack of videos because the library is closed. That’s a necessary blessing because his book is far more gratifying than many of the videos we have watched in the passive stupor called entertainment.
I’m revisiting Goethe’s autobiography for an insight into the life of an amazing man. To test my mental acuity, I’m reading Bertrand Russell’s “Problems With Philosophy,” where abstractions are equally comforting and perplexing.
I think about these perplexions (a word I just coined) while swinging the double-sided ax to split the last of my firewood for the season, or pitchforking my recently thawed garden beds and mixing in the mulch left by the voles that undermined our lawns under the winter snowpack. (I grudgingly respect those diligent, burrowing critters.)
I chew on the raw material of concepts and ideas and then rebound to the present by gazing out across the quiet valley with the river murmuring below and the mountain ridges sweeping the sky.
I’ve been working for years in the easy comfort of my home office up the Fryingpan Valley. Even after the virus abates, which it will, so many are now working from home that the working world is becoming comfortably adjusted to the pleasantness and convenience of short commutes in PJs and bedroom slippers.
From my office window, I watch the limbs of a pinon pine waver in the breeze, the grasses sway, birds flit and bunnies hop and play. I watch the deer pass by, perhaps a fox, a mating pair of ravens frolicking in midday acrobatics. As I write this, I’m watching a thick and growing blanket of snow soften everything.
The visible natural world is unchanged, but the human world is forever changed. How humbling is this global crisis which fixes our minds on the most elemental needs as listed by Maslow: food, clothing, air, shelter, safety, love/belonging, self-esteem and self-actualization.
I’m keeping track of these “interesting times” through the virtual window of my computer — if I decide to spectate at all. Sometimes, I’m eager to know because of a prodding and occasional morbid curiosity. Other times, I want distance and detachment because my mood is delicate and requires respite from the chaos that is boiling up everywhere.
I’m self-isolated, self-quarantined and self-sufficient, for as long as the larder is full. And I’m gnawingly self-focused on the slightest tickle in my throat, the faintest feeling of a fever. Is it me, or is this room hot? We’re all hypersensitive to “symptoms” under the dread fear of becoming ill. Not me.
I tell myself, I’m fine. Just stay put. Conserve. Simplify. Monitor the world. Keep a distance. Live through these interesting times and reflect on them later — long after they are listed as bullet points in some future, retrospective newspaper column.
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at email@example.com.
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