Sam Smith – With the help of my lovely and talented wife of 53 years, I am about to begin my eighth week of unplanned solitude thanks to the coronavirus. As with other crises, I have been so busy figuring out how to handle it pragmatically, that only in the past day or two have I found myself reflecting on its deeper meaning.
It’s a problem I have with crises. I perceive them coming on a regular basis and can suffer sleep-depriving angst just on their possibility. In fact, most of this angst is a waste of time and effort as much of what I worry about tends not to happen.
Actual crises, however, I tend to handle differently, My inner existentialism tells me to concentrate on practical choices rather than imagined outcomes. Thus I sometimes do better in a disaster than just thinking about one.
But even disasters can get boring after a while and I find myself lately mulling the inner meaning of it all. For example, the values that have been saving lives lately are a quiet but stunning challenge to much that is taught, say, at the Harvard Business School or Yale Law School. We are on this earth not to beat down other guys but to help them and be helped in return. Living in a small town in Maine, this is just the norm but greater America has been going in another direction for some time. It is also interesting that, without much discussion, we have redefined money and how it handled, granting a trillion here or there, and not even talking about the fact that our national debt has increased five times since the 1990s without any great inflation or other predicted crises A decade ago, who would have expected the speaker of the House to be talking about a guaranteed national income?
I have also been struck by the fact that for the first time in my late life, I find my age to be an actual asset. As an 82 year old I and my peers are often considered something between non-essential to irrelevant. Thus being assigned to a house for eight weeks is not all that different. I have fewer board meetings cancelled, fewer problems to be solved, fewer challenges to present or be presented with.
Thus I was a stay-at-home long before all this happened. Add to this my life as a writer accustomed to solitude and what’s happening now just doesn’t seem as strange to me as it does for many. Further, I was blessed by living my active years during times like the 1960s when real change occurred.
But my wife is a historian so I am constantly reminded of how easily the past disappears. For example, my early heroes in writing were three men I called The Initials: HL Mencken, AJ Liebling and EB White. It does little good to mention them today.We live in today and today is not defined by what we did in February but we do now.
And even times we didn’t ask for and don’t like can be cribs of change. And we are all essential workers in creating this change. If an 82 year old can keep trying to do it, you can too.