The Tenuous Present, the Fading Past, and the Uncertain Future

It’s been a while since my last entry, and I have the unsettling feeling that if I read my earlier entries, it would be like reading something written by someone else. This is, at once, both exhilarating and disturbing. Exhilarating, because it gives me a glimpse of who I was and what I thought at an earlier time– okay, so not a whole lot earlier, but enough time having passed that I could read it and say, yes– yes– I did think that, how have I forgotten? Which is the disturbing part, really, that we have such a time clinging to what we’ve been. So much so, that memories we have of childhood play like a newsreel in our head; we hardly retain the sense of “I” and it feels so much like a 3rd person narrative that we can scarcely be blamed for wondering if it happened at all.

I’ve shared with friends and family alike in the last few weeks that I’ll be retiring from my job the middle of next year. I’ve worked really my whole adult life, and while I’ve accomplished not so much, and am only modestly placed in my company, even so, much of what I am has been my job and that, in its absence, I’ll need to find other ways to define myself, and ways to feel like I’m contributing. The present is always where we are going to live, but there has been such a feeling of fragility and peril lately, that I have found myself wistfully longing for times past. I’m reminded of a saying I heard a number of years back about why we long for the past. “We love the past, because we know we survived it. We aren’t so sure about today”.

We had a neighbor on our block, down at the corner, that always seemed alive and vital, cheerful and neighborly. We never knew her as well as we might have, but she had a random accident recently and died, and now we will never have that chance.

A Barbershop singer in my chapter who joined us in 2018 along with his adopted son, just passed– I just sang w/ him a month ago in our show, and now I’ll have no more chances to do that.

If that sounds selfish, it is; I acknowledge it. If we like traditions, if we dislike change, it’s because we know that change is coming, and that we may not survive it. So we have favorite activities, and favorite restaurants, and familiar friends, and we can’t bear to toss out an old sweater, or old shoes because, we think, if only we could stay in the present, this never ending present and not have to face what inevitably will be ahead for us all.

And so we cherish our memories, and our possessions, our photographs and our videos, because they help us hold on to who we are, and that is what we really ask of the present, that it not take us into the future, which is a frightening place, where we may forget who we are, and lose our hold on the world, and our place in it.

I wrote all of above paragraphs in the latter part of 2019, and for some reason, was not moved to publish it; I think, perhaps because it felt like an unfinished theme, like I had left something important out. And now that we have lived these last couple months under the shadow of a global pandemic, I find it eerie that what I wrote, while nothing terribly original, seemed to foreshadow coming events, which I freely admit I would not have predicted.

But as I reflect on the last 2 months– to the day– since I left my office in Plymouth, Mi. (little knowing it was to be my last work day at our mfg plant), I realize that what was missing, is the anxiety and worry that we live with, much of our lives, often, without even being aware of it, or at least, acknowledging the affect it has on our every waking, and even sleeping, hour.

I’ve touched on the Pandemic in my last post: A rant at Major League Baseball. But I realize its been difficult to says what I’m thinking or to put into words how I’m processing this unique, singular event of our lifetimes. What I have sensed, in recent days, is that what is happening to us, for many of us, maybe most of us, hasn’t sunk in. We’ve seen the way the world has changed already, in reaction to an unprecedented set of circumstances. We scarcely comprehend what has occurred, and the broad ways that we have reacted, is a sure indication of that. At our core, we know that some things have changed irrevocably, and that many more changes, ones we can barely grasp, are still ahead of us.

I titled this piece, before the Pandemic, and as I sit here, I realize how completely apt the title was, despite (admittedly) no foresight on events that would shape the world of 2020. The Past is INDEED fading…does anyone else think how quaint and unrealistic the crowd scenes in TV and movies seem? We almost can’t believe that was the way we lived, even as we long to return to that once familiar template.

A tenuous Present? You bet! Tell me when, in most of our lifetimes, did our reality seem so fragile? During the Vietnam war, or the Gulf War, or the “so-called” Great Recession of the 80’s, or that terrible day in 2001 when we had to pull all the planes out of the air? For those events, we still had some hold on what our world was, and what the aftermath would look like. Did we have uncertainty? Assuredly, we did, but we had models of what might occur next that could comfort us, even if we did not have complete faith in them.

The current uncertainty is greater than any I remember; we don’t know how long the current world crisis will last, or what shape it will have in the weeks/ months ahead. So much of what we considered “normal” has no ETA for its return, if ever. And we have no real clue on what changes are still ahead. Virtually every aspect of society has been touched: Church, entertainment, work, medical care, school, and any gathering of people that are so much apart of our social fabric– all of these are affected, and in uncountable ways.

Leave aside whatever you think politically (with the acceptance that the diverse range of opinions on what was right, or is right, or will be right in dealing with the pandemic, and its aftermath, are based on terribly incomplete data). Whatever your view is, there can be no arguing this point: Big changes have not only come, but are still ahead, and if we walk around in a daze, not sure quite why we feel as anxious as we do, we know that it is because, however normal things may look, when we go about are yardwork, or our crossword puzzles, or our visual scans of the our neighborhoods, or city streets– if we lift our eyes a bit, and listen to the news, or go to a store, or restaurant, or look at Facebook or YouTube, we have the sobering knowledge that the Universe is changing, and we wonder if we’ll be able to find our place in it.

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