I’m in a wobbly state these days. This, I am told, is normal after hip replacement surgery, but lately I’ve been feeling even more wobbly emotionally than I do physically. My inner weather shifts from placid to stormy countless times during the day. It doesn’t take much to lower my barometric pressure: an unanswered email, one item too many on my to-do list and, above all, the danse macabre of the news cycle, swirling in my consciousness from dawn to dusk.
I wasn’t always like this. Although I had my ups and downs, I never approached my present weathervane-like state. One variable of course is age. I had always imagined that someday, when I finally grew up, I would attain a sage-like equanimity. So far this fantasy has not come true for me, on the contrary.
But the principal variable, I believe, is not my age, but the age in which we live. Floods and fires. Afghans clinging to the fuselage of taxiing cargo planes. Haitians being dug out (or not being dug out) of ruins. Americans dying who would have lived if they had been vaccinated. Overflowing ICUs, exhausted doctors and nurses, and a virus that keeps reinventing itself. The uncertainty of what life will look like in a month, or three. Who can stay calm in the middle of this?
Often I tell myself that no generation before us has dealt with threats of this magnitude. And then I try to imagine myself as a Jew in 1940s Germany, or as my father, in hiding from 1936 to 1939, the duration of the Spanish Civil War. Surely the daily fear for their lives, their hunger and deprivation, were worse than what I and the people around me have to put up with.
But here is the difference: although for us lucky ones the dangers are not immediate, they are planetary. We are the first generation to live day in and day out with the awareness of massive extinctions and colossal disasters across the globe, and the threat of more to come. (Have you noticed how few butterflies are around this summer? I saw a single Monarch at my hyssop yesterday and almost went down on my knees before it.)
So in my apocalyptic moments, my mood teeters and falls. But then, because I am human and cannot sustain any one emotional state for very long, the phone rings, or I meet a friend, or I find a good book, and I lurch upright again. However, these are merely distractions, and the next newscast, article, or photo plunges me into the depths once more.
Is this the new normal? And if so, how are we going to get through it? Is there even something beyond the through? I suspect that, for weary Londoners in the middle of the Blitz, it also must have seemed as if their trials would last forever. But then the Americans finally joined the war and made everything better.
Where, I wonder, are the “Americans” who will come with weapons, K-rations, and chocolates, and get us out of this mess?