The opening lines of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities played strongly in my consciousness this week. I am acutely aware of the clashing of multiple realities.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, . . .
There was the Olympics, happening half a world-away, in a country that simultaneously is the world’s manufacturing giant while holding its plethora of peoples under the tightest of political thumbscrews. The contrast of the Winter Olympics without snow but replete with controversy played out on screens around the world, but was watched by relatively few.
There is the imminent threat of war in Ukraine. Its peoples grow and export the majority of grain for the EU, yet many of them suffer from malnutrition, limited healthcare, and lack of education. It has been the target of Emperors and dictators for centuries and continues to be used as a pawn in the brokerage of power on the Continent and now the world stage.
it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, , . . .
I receive invitations on a daily basis to attend virtual conferences promising me insight into growing old, finding my true self, securing financial freedom, and living the best life possible. I can have all of this if I invest in bitcoin or get cash from my house using a reverse mortgage.
I have become the target of foreign-accented, newly-acquired best friends who want to make sure my car warranty hasn’t expired, my healthcare plan is sufficient to cover all my needs, and I meet the Nigerian Prince of my dreams.
We used to commute to offices where we would work from 9 to 5. Now we join one Zoom meeting after another, muting the background noises from whoever else occupies our living space and playing with virtual backgrounds that obscure or highlight our decorating acumen. Time spent with work product has become a side hustle or 15-income-streams-you-never-considered.
it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, , . . .
I find myself waking in the early morning, observing which homes in the distance have lights on and which remain in darkness. I don’t know the occupants, so I create stories about them.
Since sunrise is coming earlier and earlier these days, my mornings have fewer moments of darkness to meditate before the demands of the day take over. Night still does fall, and while there are glorious sunsets, the darkness is complete too soon. Drapes are drawn against the lowering temperatures and in an effort to keep the demons at bay. I wonder what stories my neighbors create about me.
it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, , . . .
Temperatures were in the 70s this past week, along with reports of a 1,000-year drought. While there is hope for rain (and survival), it is diminishing. Local evening news consists of back-to-back reports of the death toll from covid, murders, car crashes, and other violence that apparently is the stock and trade of the Information Age.
If we survive this slaughter, there is a chance that the perfectly coiffed and fashionably dressed presenters will, after these messages from our sponsors, hand me off to the sports and weather presenters. Sporting events seem superfluous in the face of all this catastrophe, and I can look outside to determine the weather.
it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, , . . .
The New York Times lists the daily covid death toll on its front page. The numbers don’t seem to matter unless one (or more) represents someone you knew. There is no correlation between the total numbers of dead and the intensity and frequency of grieving, at least as far as I can determine.
You would think there would be an increase in people seeking spiritual guidance and support. Instead, there is a chasm, so much greater than a divide, between those who offer spiritual guidance and support and those who spout conspiracy theories.
we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, , . . .
The new verb du jour is “pivot”. Businesses have learned to pivot. Teachers in classrooms, both virtual and plexi-glassed, have had to pivot. The problem with this word is that it is most precisely defined as “turning on a central point”. It implies changing, but, as we have all found out, little actual movement has occurred. We are literally spinning.
Change, on the other hand, is the promise to “replace, alter or modify”, hopefully with something better. It would seem to be the preferred experience. Yet “pivot” dominates.
we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way , . . .
This moth-eaten curtain of so-called separation of Church and State (that has been aspirational all along), no longer masks the rage and distrust in our democracy. Marcher’s march. Shouter’s shout. Both sides hold little hope for salvation of the other.
We send thoughts and prayers, but take no action. We Tweet, TikTok and share on Facebook, but avoid actual contact and interaction. I am asked whether or not I have been saved, and I wonder, from what.
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 for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. , . . .
1789, 1859, 1865, 1918, 1945, 1989, 2016 — these are not random dates. Each represents a time of social unrest and change. The first is the French Revolution. The second is the publication of A Tale of Two Cities. The third, the end of the Civil War in the United States. The fourth, the end of the War to End All Wars. The fifth, the dropping of the atomic bomb. The sixth, the fall of the Berlin Wall. The seventh, the election of the 45th President of the United States. Not even 250 years. So much pivoting and so little change.
So many other dates could be listed. My choice represents Euro-centric, dominant culture historical events. Other dates could and should trigger memorials and outrage, but, sadly, do not because the political or social impetus to commemorate did not exist or has been censored.
Dickens published A Tale of Two Cities in March, 1859. It came out as a serial, the Netflix of its day, over 31 weeks. For those who could afford to purchase it and who could read, it kept them on the edge of their seats. And it continues to resonate today.
Here is Dickens’ brilliant opening sentence as originally published:
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 for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.