What a Wondrous Time To Be Alive

So we lurch from crisis to crises, seeming to come in multiples now. Pandemics, hurricanes and fires. Protests erupting anew with each same-old same-old death-by-police of a black person. A mad king’s 98-minute prime time tantrum giving way to a shocking mid-of-night revelation, and before the sun descends again, a 5-minute helicopter lift straight to a fabled army hospital’s “presidential suite.”

Things falling apart, the center (was there ever a center?) no longer holding, dark possibilities going darker with the coming winter and its portents of an ever greater discontent.

We gasp at the news, the world going freeze-dried, suspended, instantly unforgettable as we take quick stock and begin to consider the implications, vast and sprawling and mind-bending as they are.

Up against that dismal constellation, just why is it that I walked out into the slightly chill October air yesterday morning and discovered myself feeling as buoyant and alive, brim-full with anticipation of the day, as I have ever been?

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I’ve been thinking much lately about my dear beloved departeds, particularly those with an abiding passion for politics and the human pageant, in all their confounding, tragic, often absurdist joy.

My father, his face leaning intently into the folds of the “Los Angeles Times” every day, immersed in his third language that he learned in his mid-30s, no doubt struggling a bit with its syntax and vocabulary as he checked in on the evolving American experiment that he had embraced as a refugee from a devastated Eastern Europe after World War II.

Tell me—when have you ever lived in a more gripping, dramatic, historical moment of seemingly huge consequence?

My brother Pete, conservative by temperament and upbringing, entering the conservative profession of accounting, against which he began to swim slowly upstream after too many encounters with wealthy clients trying fiercely to become ever more wealthy by shortchanging the public treasury and thus making the poor poorer still.

My buddy Dick, he of the acerbic wit, watcher of the Watergate hearings gavel to gavel, lover of contention and the fatuous antics of blowhards who were never in short supply as he wielded his remote like a joystick, short-hopping around the overheated world of cable news.

What would they make of all this? I ask myself, knowing immediately the answer.

They would give almost anything to be witnessing it, alive to the tumult, amazed at the spectacle, juiced by the uncertainty and drama. It is the story of civilization, after all—or at least of human efforts to cultivate civilization, to coax it into being from the tempests of our lower, chthonic selves.

Walking along with their faces in mind, I both miss them and miss their missing this—these head-shaking, cringe-inducing times of Big Trouble across our land, across the world, really. I want to give them a Facetime tour, pointing my phone at the boundless world of ever shifting headlines, splice in a few choice You Tube clips, underlay it with a touching little soundtrack that would bring a familiar grin to their faces if they were here beside me rather than mixed back into earth and ocean, their bones now ash.

“You are missing this and I am so, so sorry,” I would add in a concluding voiceover. They would have so appreciated an armchair on this unfolding history, avid observers that they were. It leaves me with a sense of unearned privilege, and with privilege, as they used to say in the days before “noblesse oblige” devolved into “greed is good,” comes great responsibility.

Responsibility for living, if nothing else, fully into this moment, its very momentousness sweeping us all up in its maw, like Dorothy riding her tornado to a strangely compelling land beyond our current understanding.

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It requires taking a step back. Not retreating, not not caring—far from that, actually.

It’s instead about noticing just how much we care, how the treacheries and heartaches and constraints of these times leave us paying inordinate (yes, sometimes obsessive) attention, how we long for things to be otherwise, how motivated we feel, when we’re not despairing, to change things if we can.

Tell me—when have you ever lived in a more gripping, dramatic, historical moment of seemingly huge consequence? If you’re lucky and functional enough to remember World War II, you can point to that, but if not, aren’t you hard-pressed?

Yes, I know there is a good amount of privilege speaking here. I’m of a certain age and gender and race, disease-free, IRA holding steady enough, not clawing to find a new job or figure out childcare or get an essentially lost year or more of education back.

Life’s none too “fascinating” when your neck is under a policeman’s knee, or your lungs are keeping forced time with a ventilator, or you’re home and unemployed with squirrelly kids staring at their teachers on an old computer screen, your pantry empty.

None of those crosses are mine to bear, my white privilege become life privilege, including the privilege to experience the full, transcendent power of its story. Once I take the simple step back from my own roiling emotions and protests over the systematic ruination of this once great-though flawed land, I am dumbstruck by the tale its people are swept up in.

We have been confronted with a strange and unexpected and unimaginably complicated set of plot lines and characters too sinister or cunning, spineless or savage and yes, righteous as well, to be conjured by anyone besides our great novelists, and I’m thinking of you, Philip Roth, and may your wise, dark and boisterous soul rest in peace…

To get a glimmer, after a lifetime of relative sleepwalking, that it really could happen here, that the guardrails of democracy are less fortified than we thought, that conmen will be with us always, rising to power again no matter how many times our good sense and the brave among us have managed to expose them in the past.

This is a startling realization that jolts us to life, passes a shiver through our heart, leads us to ponder dark questions in the deep of night.

Things matter, we matter, this blood coursing through us, carrying nutrients to all our vital places, keeping us alive (for now), breathing, watching, tasting, ingesting, thinking, judging, exulting, loving, cherishing, complaining, voting, all of it only for now— and all the more precious for it.

Life as a true hyper-intensified reality, a searing drama that requires only our attention. I’m not always certain we deserve its riches as we go about our somnambulant ways. But I know I’m dead-set on trying.

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8 comments to What a Wondrous Time To Be Alive

  • Mary  says:

    Lately I’ve been wondering what it was that I actually did during the Obama years….. they seem a sedate, calm blur of normal human activity, minus the angst and real worry and caution required to navigate the waters of today’s life. I went to work, I raised children, I maintained friendships and health routines and served on political and social committees and went to church and sometimes, my oh my, out to dinner. Seems like a dreamscape from this morning’s rear view mirror. It wasn’t a frivolous life, it was a committed, busy sometimes very challenging life and: I was free to get on with it. The people that had been elected were getting on with it too, in the manner designed by the constitution. It largely served its intended purpose of supporting its citizens in the business of their lives.

    None of it was perfect; I am not caving to nostalgia or rose-tinted dreams of those years. I often did not have enough money or adequate health insurance, for a long while the economy was struggling, the school system was not perfect…etc etc. But there was not a sense of impending doom, imminent implosion and outright betrayal, isolation and fear we face today. May we live in interesting times, right? And you are correct: interest and curiosity feel like a privilege at this point. All this (the tumult of the last 4 years) has been a bridge too far. I still find great joy in every day life, and my life is now settled and inconvenienced rather than disrupted by current events. Lucky, lucky me, truly (actually should point out that I AM lucky and also a middle class individual who achieved the measure of stability I have in large part by scholarships, professional work and retirement plans designed and supported by a visionary government. I was able to go to to school and work hard and save money, in a manner which seem now like a fairy tale).

    And I am now, like so many Americans, simply exhausted and seasick, disgusted and down-hearted. I suppose the best view we can take here is to be reminded by this loud, insistent, seemingly-never-ending 4 year wake-up call to not to take our government for granted, to understand our own responsibility to stay involved and active, to continue to speak up even in our fatigue. And to be reminded, by Rhiannon, to be on our way: to the polls, and to VOTE.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Can’t disagree with hardly anything you wrote, Mary, except for now being “simply exhausted and seasick, disgusted and down-hearted.” Some of the time, to be sure, but lately have also felt much of what I emphasized above, which is rather opposite of those. I think I’ve alluded to all the exhaustion, etc. previously, but it seemed important to note the engagement, fascination, and appreciation for simply being alive through it all as well. Could be just me practicing a little self-hypnosis as a survival tactic, but long as it works… :-)

  • Dennis Ahern  says:

    First, Mary’s comments above could be my own. Well said.

    I often wish my mom were around to discuss the current maelstrom which seemingly besets from every side. She was a good New England Kennedy Democrat and towards the end she became more prone to Clancy-esque conspiracy theories. “You know, Bush and his cronies engineered 9/11!” “Mom, I don’t know about that…….” What would she say now? I would love to have that conversation.

    The whole twist-and-turn-a-minute drama feels worthy of a play by Shakespeare. MacTrump, perhaps. Referred to as The Mar-a-lago Play, to avoid bad luck, of which we have in abundance. Do we have the man to meet the times? Instead of Henry V, we get Richard III.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Dennis, I’d been thinking along the same lines, conjuring Shakespeare and even Biblical dimensions to this epically karmic event (yep, Hinduism too!), but then it occurred to me that Shakespeare’s tragic heroes with the proverbial fatal flaw are at least heroes first, and Trump has always been simply a knave, conman and fool. And then I read somewhere that the Old Testament is actually a better repository of Trumpian characters, and since the OT has always been a weak spot for me, I’m looking into it!

  • Al  says:

    Beautifully written post, Andrew. Yes, these are times that demand our full attention and participation. These are times that invite us to live our values with passion. And that is a gift. These are times that can also do us in. In her eighties, my grandmother had a boyfriend of a similar age who was a staunch conservative Republican. The night that Carter was elected he suffered a fatal myocardial infarct. My staunchly liberal father, were he still alive, would not perhaps have survived these times. But I know he’d have felt the same as you, Andrew. What a privilege to be alive at this crucial time.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Thanks very much, Al. Yes, many of us indeed have been “done in,” not least the 210,000 Americans who have died (so far) before they had a chance to do three self-promotional videos the first two days they had the virus, then commandeer a Secret Service limousine so they could wave to their fans. The truest thing about Trump: he will never stop being Trump.

      And oh dear, I hope Carter never heard about your granny’s boyfriend! Good Christian that he has always been, he’d no doubt feel badly about causing someone a heart attack—even a Republican!

  • Kevin Feldman  says:

    Another masterful post my friend, followed by thoughtful responses…I totally relate to Mary‘s reflections, The Obama years were so relatively calm and “normal”… as Andrew mentioned I also have become completely fascinated, obsessed, with following the evermore bizarre daily revelations. I have to confess that while I’m loaded with revulsion, anger and disgust , I also get energized by reading and listening to others try to make sense of this miasma of craziness, part Soap Opera for sure but with such enormous consequences, “hyper intensified reality” to be sure!! I watched the debate with my brother-in-law who held his nose and voted for Trump (lower taxes & anti Clinton) who was every bit as outraged as I watching the stomach turning spectacle – which is just a little personal indicator of the feeling I get that the con is up, “ a change is gonna come”. For an optimistic take on the possibilities & potential silver linings of a post Trump polity check out the current Atlantic.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      “Miasma of craziness” indeed, Kevin! Presided over by what is ever more abundantly clear is a mentally ill, pathological narcissist who just can’t help himself. Meanwhile, I will leave it to others more spiritually evolved than I to feel compassion for him—he has wrecked too much of our country and killed too many Covid victims for me to feel anything but an urgency to see him out of office now, post haste. I’ve also read & heard enough about hold-your-nose ex-Trumpers who have now seen enough to finally recoil, so I too am increasingly confident that Trump’s con is up, though I’m less confident that he won’t throw the country into utter turmoil by employing multiple ways to try to steal the election.

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