…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.”
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.