What is this time? What do we call it? When it finishes unfolding crease by crease by crease at the end of this decade or the next or whenever, where will it find its niche in history?
What will we have, and what will we have lost? Who will we be? Certainly not the us who we are now or were in March of 2020.
The unfolding. So much change. So much uncertainty. Pandemic. War. Democracy under attack.
Weirdly, but at the same time, of course, most of us go about our business. We fly. We drive. We vacation. We gather. Watch baseball. We shop. As if there is nothing unusual in the air. In denial, or perhaps acceptance, of all that has unfolded and continues to unfold.
Yet the anxiety is always there, intruding inconveniently into our thoughts, making its way into our heads – something we hear, something we read, something we see, something our brains offer up even as we try to avoid it.
A fine spring day interrupted by worry, even fear.
Of course, this is how history unfolds. No generation, no population, escapes the wave of change that inevitably breaches the fragile wall we try to build against it. Perhaps this is simply the human condition.
So here is ours, the decade of our deep insecurity.
I am working my way through a quartet of books known as the Neapolitan novels, by Italian writer Elena Ferrante. The first in the series, “My Brilliant Friend,” introduces us to two young girls growing up in a very tough, violent, impoverished neighborhood outside Naples, Italy, in the 1950s and follows them through 60 years of personal, societal, and political upheaval over the next three books.
As now is our time, that was their time, exquisitely revealed in the books and a current television series on HBO Max.
Perhaps it is our nature to seek out parallels to our time throughout history. Perhaps we derive comfort in the realization that generation succeeds generation despite enormous challenges that can seem insurmountable at the time.
One scene in book four, “The Story of the Lost Child,” especially stands out for me as a parable for our times. The women are grown now and meeting in a cafe when that wave of change breaches the wall.
“The earthquake – the earthquake of November 23, 1980, with its infinite destruction – entered into our bones.”
And I wonder: What over the past three years has entered into our bones? What is the effect on us, the survivors, of the death of up to 8 million human beings from the pandemic? How do those bones begin to absorb the untold misery and suffering, the financial devastation, the deep psychological wounds?
And so it unfolds, crease by crease.
“It expelled the habit of stability and solidity, the confidence that every second would be identical to the next, the familiarity of sounds and gestures, the certainty of recognizing them.”
The world, reeling from the continuing pandemic, flirting dangerously with a war that has already been immensely tragic but could grow exponentially more so at any moment.
”A sort of suspicion of every form of reassurance took over, a tendency to believe in every prediction of bad luck, an obsessive attention to signs of the brittleness of the world, and it was hard to take control again.”
Control. Loss of control. We can’t contain the misery and suffering ravaged by war, not just in Ukraine, but around the globe.
“Minutes and minutes and minutes that wouldn’t end.”
Unfolding, unfolding, shaking our sense of normal. We are and we aren’t.
I wonder, what will we make of this time?
Andrew Marsters is an award-winning Maine journalist and former journalism instructor at the University of New Hampshire. He lives on Munjoy Hill.