I finally understand what Charles Dickens meant when he wrote the intro for A Tale of Two Cities, well, kind of.
It was the best of times. It is the best of times. Isn’t it? I mean, think about it. We live in the Information Age. Technology has afforded many of us access to anything we want to know via the Interwebs. Cell phones connect us in ways we probably never imagined. We don’t have to ask anyone anything anymore. Technology has made it so. We can Google corona virus…and voila! Not only will we receive information, but it may change right before our eyes as we all learn together in real time how to react.
It was the worst of times. Every country around the world has a lot going on. Vladmir Putin is planning to remain president for life to enact revenge on the West. At least ten countries (have been and) are presently at war. Approximately 64,000 Black women are missing in the States. About 15% of the Amazon rainforest burned in 2019. July 2019 Anchorage, Alaska reported their first recorded temperature of 90 degrees. Add corona virus to this list, which the World Health Organization has now classified as a pandemic, and I’d say it seems to be the worst of times.
It was the age of wisdom. Oxford defines wisdom as “the body of knowledge and principles that develops within a specified society or period.” The Information Age has gifted us with 24-hour access to one another and to new sources. These connections have led many of us to believe we are wise about all of the things we encounter. But this is an illusion. Everyone only thinks they know everything. Really, we don’t know much. For me, not knowing has been most evident as the corona virus spread; however, I don’t know hasn’t been a phrase uttered very much the past few months. But it should be. It’s a perfectly fine thing to proclaim.
It was the age of foolishness. Yep. Through the socials and traditional media, I’ve heard everything from only elderly people can die from corona virus to no black people can die from corona virus. Really? It seems sensible that compounded illnesses and weak immune systems make people more vulnerable to a corona virus death, but I’m pretty sure viruses aren’t age discriminate and don’t racially profile. Even President Trump disseminated misinformation during his State of Emergency address that had to be backtracked. Turns out you can’t just send everyone home from Europe in two-days’ time after all.
It was the epoch of belief. It was the epoch of incredulity. <sigh> I’ve never seen so many people hope the government will save us, while simultaneously having little faith that the government will actually do anything. But I understand. Historically, doctors and scientists study diseases, create vaccines, and prevent epidemics and pandemics. Typically, those who are at the top of the field work with the government to do so. But, specifically in the U.S. our government is pretty dysfunctional. Couple that with our president, who has in some ways made these people (and their associated knowledge) the enemy and left specific CDC jobs unfilled, and you get the skepticism many of the country’s citizens have.
There’s more to Dickens’ intro, but I’d like to add two of my own:
It was a time for panic. It was a time for calm. My mother-in-law texted me, saying this: A friend of mine received a message yesterday from a friend that works at the Pentagon that all grocery stores will close in a couple of days. All schools are closed here.
My grandmother has socially isolated because she’s 93, and according to her and the CDC, she should remain home due to her age.
Hundreds of thousands of university students are returning home to finish the semester online.
As I write this, I’m sitting in a Starbucks, staring out of the window, watching what looks to be typical rush-hour traffic. Folks must’ve gone to work today.
I’m waiting to hear what time my daughter’s flight will return from England. Corona and President Trump’s travel restrictions interrupted her Spring Break trip. Florida’s schools just announced that students will have an additional week off so that they and their families, who travelled to high-risk areas can remain home and not infect others and so custodians can conduct a deep cleaning.
According to social media, people are still stockpiling bread, water, Clorox, and hand sanitizer. Shelves are empty. Folks are praying; others are spreading conspiracy theories, and some are joking about capitalizing on inexpensive trips.
And as I sip my grande Mango Dragonfruit refresher, while watching America scramble to contain a virus we’ve never seen, I have some inkling of what Dickens meant when he wrote those paradoxical words. It is indeed both the best of times and the absolute flippin’ worst.