Reflecting on this strange time
This afternoon, I sat in a chair looking at my relatively suburban house with two cars in the driveway, and my mind flashed back to the postwar (WWII) period in America. Those exuberant tailfin cars pulling into newly built houses. The endless optimistic ads for new-fangled televisions and amazing machines that actually did your washing for you.
For many, the trauma of the war would linger, but one thing was certain—the war was over.
How I yearn for such clarity.
At the end of July, 2022, my family and I got Covid. I suppose you could say August was “a bit of a wash” as we recovered. And now we find ourselves in this strange space.
For us, the pandemic is essentially over—or at least this phase of it is, who knows what future variants might bring. In that sense, the end of the pandemic feels less like the end of a war, and more like the end of a terrorist attack.
I guess we’ll have to live differently now.
During this pandemic, we were repeatedly required to go into sustained lockdowns. But with no defined end, I presume there will be no public call to open up and party like it’s 1999.
Of course, Covid isn’t over for a lot of us. Many haven’t gotten Covid yet. Many have Long Covid. And with many hundreds of thousands of people now dead from the virus, the monumental grief for everyone and everything we’ve lost lingers still.
Have you ever seen a man holding a sign that says, “The End is Near!” How merciful that sounds now—an actual ending. A full stop instead of a long parenthetical.
I think about what it’s like to live after a car accident, a head injury, or the many other traumas we might suffer—all without a clearly defined ending.
It’s a real challenge to stay oriented toward the present instead of the past. To be active instead of reactive. To live with openness to life instead of fear.
At least with Covid, everyone has some sense of what everyone else has been through. Other traumas can feel like private hells. We have to find our communities. Even a community of two.
For me, it feels like there’s been some profound shift now. And I don’t feel like merely getting back to work. I yearn for a break—not lifeless inactivity suffused with anxiety, but a real break. Some time to reopen my apertures after years of closure. An exit from the prison. A cleared name.
And I yearn for some kind of public ritual. A shared moment of grief and healing where we can at least acknowledge the depth of what’s happened instead of being asked to maintain some absurd level of denialism.
I think of the way Paul Newman rebelled against such absurdity in Cool Hand Luke. It was as if he alone understood the profound silliness of it all—get back to work! This ditch is important! We’re working toward a grand scheme here! A brighter tomorrow awaits us all!
About the bright future, wouldn’t it be nice to know one way or the other? But I suppose we’d be robbed of the mystery wrapped inside that gift we call the present.
This evening, my wife and I ambulated to the nearby dog park where we were simultaneously greeted and accosted by a chihuahua wearing a bowtie, named Leonard.
He appeared to be smiling as he barked, absolutely delighted. We were clearly a threat, but one he could handle. Leonard had all threats or would-be threats under control, that’s for sure. We reached out to see if he might cotton to us, but he felt like cheerfully barking instead.
As we walked away, I said, “Leonard is very, what’s the word? Counterphobic.”
“Yes,” my wife said. “They will fear and love me in equal measure!”
I remember learning about the idea of counterphobia when our son was about two. Kids that age are understandably afraid of a lot of things. But some of them go right at those fears, almost attacking them. This is known as counterphobic behaviour.
It was then that I understood myself as a child a little bit better. And as an adult. Why I like bowties, for example. And Ted Danson in The Good Place. Remember when he says, “All I ever really wanted was to know what it feels like to be human, and now we’re going to do the most human thing of all: attempt something futile with a ton of unearned confidence and fail spectacularly!”
What a great story. I imagine someone discovering it now. I just love that that journey is out there for someone to take.
Beautfiul. This lack of certainty, of clear delineations between events, phenomena, historical periods, is characterstic of our lives now. And I have a hard time living with that! And the living-with- head trauma analogy is pretty direct. Thank you.