Current AffairsSeptember 5, 20210“It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times…

…it was the age of wis­dom, it was the age of fool­ish­ness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of increduli­ty, it was the sea­son of Light, it was the sea­son of Dark­ness, it was the spring of hope, it was the win­ter of despair, we had every­thing before us, we had noth­ing before us, we were all going direct to Heav­en, we were all going direct the oth­er way – in short, the peri­od was so far like the present peri­od, that some of its nois­i­est author­i­ties insist­ed on its being received, for good or evil, in the superla­tive degree of com­par­i­son only.”

-Charles Dick­ens

I’ve been reflect­ing late­ly on this open­ing sen­tence from Dick­ens A Tale of Two Cities. It describes so accu­rate­ly my per­cep­tions of the moment we find our­selves in; won­der­ful and dread­ful, awe-inspir­ing and gut-wrenching.

The exam­ple I’ve been think­ing of most often: the glob­al COVID pan­dem­ic that has tak­en almost 5 mil­lion lives over the past 22 months, thrown most of the world’s economies into a tail­spin, and fur­ther increased the already-huge wealth gap in the US. It has also led to one of the most aston­ish­ing sci­en­tif­ic achieve­ments in his­to­ry – the devel­op­ment, test­ing and dis­tri­b­u­tion of not one but a num­ber of safe and remark­ably effec­tive vac­cines against the dis­ease. Over 6 bil­lion shots have been giv­en over the past year.

I’m also see­ing oth­er “best of times” out­comes of this “worst of times” sit­u­a­tion. The ever-more un-heard-of changes we made in response to the pan­dem­ic (Wait, no St Patrick’s Day parade in NYC? Wait, schools are clos­ing??? Wait, mil­lions of peo­ple are work­ing from home?????) have unhooked many of us from what we con­sid­ered pos­si­ble, and have result­ed in lots of self-ini­ti­at­ed pos­i­tive change. Mil­lions of peo­ple leav­ing under­paid jobs or demand­ing bet­ter work­ing con­di­tions; mil­lions of peo­ple acknowl­edg­ing and work­ing to change the insti­tu­tion­al­ized inequities in the US and oth­er coun­tries; mil­lions of peo­ple new­ly inspired to work for change in their local and state governments.

And yet, at the same time – those who are fright­ened by the changes are work­ing hard to take us back to a time that felt safer to them: a time when women and peo­ple of col­or had even less say in the polit­i­cal process – and even less con­trol over their bod­ies and their choices.

As I said: the best of times and the worst of times.

So, here’s how I’ve decid­ed to move through this crazy time. I’m doing every­thing I can to assess what I find the worst about these times, and do some­thing about it. For instance, I can give time, brain pow­er and mon­ey to sup­port efforts to fight sys­temic racism and sex­ism; to rebal­ance our econ­o­my; to address the cli­mate cri­sis; to keep us mov­ing toward over­com­ing this pandemic.

And, when won­der­ful things hap­pen, I can cher­ish them and spread the word about them. It might be a per­son­al joy: watch­ing our grand­kids grow and blos­som, and all our kids and kids-in-law make their way to good post-pan­dem­ic lives, or the affec­tion and respect I feel for all my mar­velous col­leagues at Pro­teus. Or it might be a love­ly thing on the world stage: devel­oped coun­tries pro­vid­ing mil­lions of dos­es of COVID vac­cines to poor­er coun­tries; data show­ing that the COVID relief pack­age insti­tut­ed in March actu­al­ly is reduc­ing child pover­ty by almost half (as promised – I read this on Upwor­thy, one of my most reli­able sources of good things). I’ve found that grat­i­tude is the most pow­er­ful­ly ben­e­fi­cial emo­tion in dif­fi­cult times. When I can feel gen­uine­ly grate­ful for some­thing, it strength­ens and moti­vates me for all the chal­lenges yet to be addressed.

Here’s hop­ing that in these wild times, your bests out­weigh your worsts, and that you keep mov­ing for­ward with those you love.

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