One of the biggest lessons I have learned throughout my life is that time does not care about you. It doesn’t matter where you are emotionally, what you are doing with yourself, the state of the planet, if things are joyful or miserable—24 hours will still pass by, and another 24, and you will be shoved along whether you want to or not, whether you feel ready for the time to go by or not, and you just have to deal with that.
So here we are, in December 2020. The year that has sometimes felt like it would never end, that has plunged us all into a vortex that seemed to explode the normal boundaries of conventional existence, was actually moving along the entire time. And now it’s almost done. How is that even possible?
It’s not only possible, it is happening. Check the calendar. It’s real. Very soon, 2020 will not be the thing we are all doing, it will be the year we can’t quite believe we experienced. It will be the burning building we ran from. The vaccines are already arriving, and presumably, at some point in 2021, most of us will get one, and the masks will come off, and we will stagger out of the flames, dazed and battered, and look behind us at the wreckage, and marvel to ourselves that we were stuck in there for all that time—that life meant being surrounded by fire for two, three, five, eight, ten, twelve months, and we just did it.
Well, those of us who were able to make it out alive did it. Nearly 271,000 people are dead in this country—about 40,000 people more than the last time I wrote one of these columns. The people ostensibly in charge of keeping us all safe and sound appear determined instead to shove us as deeply into this crisis as they possibly can before we are allowed to breathe again. Everything we know about this last bit of 2020 suggests that it is going to be absolutely horrendous—cases of COVID and deaths climbing ever-higher, the added agony of what to do about the holidays, the cold and darkness enveloping everything, the most vulnerable people put on the scrap-heap, and the prospect of any substantial help from the government to get us through this seeming as remote as ever. There will come a time when this is not the world, when things are better than this, but it’s going to be a while.
The dangerous thing about the relentlessness of time is that it can exert a kind of paralysis. The days and weeks go by and you are pulled along and this is just how things go. But we were not destined to have our lives torn asunder like this for so long. This was not how this year had to happen. (Some might disagree with this in a broader sense: “time stretches out infinitely…….everything that’s happened has already happened and will keep happening,” Katherine said when she was editing this blog. I take the point—was there ever a year that felt more like a cosmic catastrophe than this one?—even if I don’t ultimately share the view.)
We weren’t fated to deal with this kind of death and destruction, with so many people sinking into the sea in one form or another. Time passes by, but the nature of that time is not inevitable. What people, and governments, and societies, do with that time is the thing that matters. This society has chosen to be about as cruel as possible. It would be nice if we learned to use the time we have even a little better than this.