As I write this I am sitting on my front porch, where a wall of jasmine that has grown up the side of my house and through the porch railings blocks the morning sun where I sit. I love to be out here early in the morning when it’s still cool and the angle of the sun makes all the colors of my garden look bright and saturated. My porch is very small, only two people can comfortably sit, but it’s enough to create a little outdoor alcove where I can work cozily on my computer or chat on the phone without my neighbors seeing me. Best of all, it gives me a tiny hit of joy when I come out here. And tiny hits of joy is where it’s at these days.
I’m bracing myself for the future, unknown as usual but seemingly loading up with more chaos and discord, collecting static, preparing to further undo us and all of our carefully controlled lives. And truthfully, I have little idea how I am supposed to prepare myself. I have some version of a General living inside me, a slightly paranoid and reactive individual who has some strong ideas about what to do: Stockpile the cash! Buy more dried beans! Get that will in order! Shore up the walls! But the General has no ideas for me when it comes to preparing emotionally, other than Get your shit together! The General doesn’t coddle the troops. After a while that commanding voice starts to have the same effect on me as the car alarm down the street that keeps going off. The disaster has arrived, unfolding in a pattern that has been confidently predicted by public health experts all over the world, and there is no coherent plan to deal with it. The school thing alone is enough to make my head spin, and I don't even have kids. And while some have more resources than others to insulate themselves from its effects, we are all on some level hapless and flat-footed casualties of the greatest national calamity of our lifetimes. Not to be a bummer about it. After all, disasters are part of the human condition. I think we are born to endure and withstand disasters, it's what has made us so resilient and able to adapt to almost any situation.
Sometimes there is an option to escape disaster rather than endure it. And it turns out that is a truly a feature of the pandemic, there is no where to go. Certainly there are safer, healthier places to be than the US, but basically we're all kinda stuck where we are, no matter where we find ourselves. And making the decisions to go is a highly fraught undertaking in itself. That's why we never saw the promised migration to Canada by thousands of people after the current president was elected; it's just soooooo much hassle to emigrate. I’ve been thinking about this as I watch what has been going on in Hong Kong over the last year, the protests against the tightening down of Chinese authoritarian rule over the former British colony. Hong Kong has enjoyed some provisional autonomy from the mainland since being handed back to China in 1997, but the ongoing crackdown and encroachment by the Chinese government has been unyielding, relentless in recent weeks. And while some protests continue, many are preparing to flee the country. The UK is offering to take in 3 million people, which for a country of 6.5 million is no small gesture. I think we can expect to see millions leave over the next year or two.
I always wonder about that moment when an individual or family decides that it’s time to go, leave their country because of clear and present danger, or a disastrous lack of opportunity. I’m reading a book that takes place in Vienna during the initial stages of the Nazi invasion, and it illustrates how the difficult it is to make the determination to stay or go, even in the face of something as wildly dangerous as the Third Reich. To be able to pull away from one’s own personal circumstances, with all of its emotional entanglements and physical attachments, and leave it behind takes incredible will and an ability to see things clearly during a time of pandemonium. Many of us cling to a belief that everything will be okay. And you go on believing that until it is too late. A friend of mine use to have saying posted on his fridge that said, Everything will be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end. That little spin on a comforting cliché tells a harder truth that always gave me a little chuckle and a a shiver. (By the way, it’s worth remembering that most countries, including the United States, refused to take in all but a small number of Jewish refugees from Europe, leaving many who would have sought refuge elsewhere to their fate in the Nazi death camps. So the choice to leave wasn't a luxury even available to millions of people.)
Back to preparing ourselves for the more that is to come. I don't have any good answers other than all of the obvious ones which I will state here for the record: marshal all the resources one has, great and small, and align with friends and loved ones wherever it is possible. Retain the sense of humor no matter what. Don't take it out on strangers, even if they seem to richly deserve it. Do the work, whatever it is. Recognize the privileges you have and share them with others. And especially, note the tiny hits of joy when they come. The sun in the morning. The front porch. A magical serum that somehow makes my hair look smoothed down and put together, despite having not been cut in almost 5 months. The pleasure may be fleeting, but that is also the joy of it, knowing that nothing lasts forever, and most things come around again. Both the pain and the pleasure.