Every Day is Unprecedented

We’ve just been living in a way that convinced us it wasn’t.

This slow passage of time here in this apartment has made me think about time entirely differently. I still have our Chinese New Year decorations up. So does our city, for the most part. It doesn’t feel right to take them down, not when the situation is still ongoing. The longest new years, stretching for months. The day before yesterday I was in a taxi for the first time in a month and a half, and the strains of “Long December” by the Counting Crows, a song I’ve not listened to in years, floated through the hearing parts of my brain.

This has been a long January, I thought to myself.

Every day is unprecedented.

Every day, there are more people alive than have ever been alive at the same time in the past.

Every day, people do things that they’ve never dared to do before.

Every day, people create the things that will either live on forever in human culture or burn out as a flash in the pan.

Don’t put pressure on yourself to write King Lear in quarantine.

It’s day 50 for us here.

I read some of the things I posted online at the beginning and it seems like I was mostly on point, with the exception of thinking that the isolation period would be over within a couple of weeks. It isn’t. For those of your for whom this is just starting, don’t make the same mistake. This is not likely to be a 15-day period of intensive work. Heed the lame idiomatic expression: This is a marathon, not a a sprint.

Or perhaps the long walk of the overnight backpacker on the Pacific Crest Trail or in Appalachia is a more appropriate analog. Weeks of changes. Long, incremental progress that moves in human time, not the fast-forward of the 21st century city. That’s what we are all still looking at.

People are probably thinking that things will eventually “go back to normal.” They won’t.

And that’s okay. As this situation is playing out around the world, we see the ways that the system we build was not just enough. Was not responsive enough. Was not robust enough. Was not human enough. We must rebuild a system that is better, but first we have to walk to the end of the trail. Every day is unprecedented.

Good thing that walking is good for clear thinking.

There’s a sense that the language we have is not sufficient for the things that are happening.

I don’t know how exactly to describe the last 50 days, in terms of our experience. We were not in quarantine, isolation is apparently only for those who have known exposure (we have had none), and our restrictions were not put into place with a heavy enough hand to call it lockdown, even though they are the same restrictions at least for the first part of the time in our apartment that Europe is calling by that name.

Another one I don’t have a good word for: when your predictions are right and you told people who didn’t believe you almost exactly what would come, but you can take no happiness from the things coming to pass.

It’s a really weird feeling. You wouldn’t dare an “I told you so,” because even though the people who denied what was clearly happening were wrong, you know what it’s like to hope and deny that the thing you see on the horizon is actually moving toward you. There is no pleasure to be felt when the Tube in London mirrors the subways you braved in January in Beijing. There is no joy in the streets of the city you were born in being as empty as the one you call home now, just a few weeks apart. But then as I am sitting here writing this, the cases of Covid-19 have just passed 200,000 worldwide.

It’s half-full of guilt, too. If I were just a little more persuasive, you think to yourself, they may have heard me. They may have been able to change course.

Surely we don’t all have to walk the same path, you think.

But in the every day of the unprecedented, we do.

This is a generation-defining moment. Make no mistake.

But we are not lacking in the fierce iron determination and the will to make things better. Millennials are much-maligned for our difficulties over the course of our adult lives, but this is the moment that we have all been training for. Broad-based economic disruption?

Oh, you mean like my entire working life? Difficulty getting basics? The world of promise that we hoped for, apparently ripped away? There are many of us for whom that has been a living reality for a lot longer than two weeks. We are smart and tough and we are resilient. And we’re the ones who are in our full flower of adulthood now. We are the age to lead. We will not forget the ones younger than us or the ones older. We are going to walk out of this situation and into the unprecedented future.

Which is, of course, the way the future has always been. In seven billion different ways. Every day.

Every day is unprecedented.


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