Back around the fall of 2020, in respect to the mewling avalanche of navel gazing in the media and among parts of my social circle about how 2020 was “the worst year ever”, I made two observations.
- Tell that to anyone alive in 1942, or 1916 (or the 1918 Influenza), 1861, or any of the various Bubonic Plagues. Those that didn’t hit you with a brick would laugh a bitter, condescending laugh.
- Worst ever? It wasn’t even the worst in my lifetime, from my perspective.
This last observation was a little controversial in some parts of my social circle – but among years in my life, 2020 might have cracked the bottom five, maybe. Just off the top of my head: 2008 was horrible, 2003 was a grueling slog of unemployment, 2000 involved all the fun and frolic of a divorce and 1988 was a hideous morass of depression.
So – 2020 was #5 on the *hit parade. At worst.
I posted that list on another, lesser social media platform than this blog. And it drew…
…well, some agreement, and a particularly harsh reaction from some parts of my social circle.
I’m not going to say 2020 was fun – it was terrible, and for reasons that went beyond Covid. And 2021, so far, is worse; more people in my life, speaking for myself, have died of Covid this year than last year. Again, neither year comes close to topping any of the years I listed above.
No one can or should emerge from that world-historical shock without a heightened sense of life’s transience. It is the lockdown, the pause in “busy-ness”, that has been infused with more meaning than it can hold. What started as twee high jinks about banana bread became a sour reappraisal of modernity by its principal winners: the educated, the urban, the mobile.
It is mortifyingly non-U, in fact, to say that I enter the post-lockdown world with no new angle on life. But there it is. I am going to go out as much as I did before, thanks. I am going to travel as much as the friction of new rules allows. If some urbanites crave an Arcadian life, I encourage them to find it in the obvious places instead of bending cities to their tastes. To the extent that I have changed at all, it is in the direction of more speed and zest: passing some of my forties in an Asian megacity is a goal now, as it never was before.
No doubt, my failure to have a Damascene lockdown reveals an impoverished imagination. But then which side is more bovinely stuck in its ways here? What stands out about the great odysseys of the soul I keep reading is their familiarity. Metropolitans have always been prone to credulous nature-worship. Families have always been prone to urban flight. Mid-life ennui has always been dressed up as some fault with the outside world. What is new is the respectability that such attitudes have acquired over the past year and a half. In other words, the lockdown hasn’t changed these people any more than it changed me. It just dignified existing impulses.
Read the whole thing.
But I think there was one other factor at work.