‘Dread’ is a comically abused word in these parts, these parts being the social milieu of the solidly upper-middle-class that I know my way around. I am dreading my performance review tomorrow. I dread meeting my ex later to discuss the puppy’s custody arrangements. I dread this niçoise salad. The tuna’s from a tin.
The gravity of the situation measured on a disproportionate scale. A fly’s weight calculated in megatonnes. A 3rd-grader’s first piano recital judged up against Gould’s Goldberg Variations. It was definitely much, much shorter, sweetie. Two-thumbs up from mommy and daddy!
A word drained of meaning.
So, I am trying to keep the dreaded d-word on the periphery of my vernacular and find a more appropriate definition for the sensation I have been experiencing, that sinking feeling, since, well, probably the first time ‘covid’ made its grand entrance. Not that I especially feared the virus itself. I was not its target demographic. More a disruption that became a habit than something that might affect me directly. But a disruption easily accommodated given the resources I had at my disposal. Plenty of space to keep my distance. No one near and dear at immediate risk, stuck in an ill-equipped care home or on the front lines of essential work. I took to the enforced boundaries restricting my previous lifestyle.
The… apprehension, let’s call it. The disquiet and fret began with the realization just how unprepared we seemed to be for the epidemic. Caught off-guard and slow-to-unwilling to face the full ramifications of the virulence unleashed, we stumbled time and time again as the bodies piled up. Reluctantly and grudgingly we accepted what had to be done, piecemeal, always, always less effectively than what should’ve been done, when all we really wanted to do was wish it away with no sacrifices on our part.
Then, the explosion of irrationality, already simmering to near boil all around us, pockets, deep, well-lined pockets of delusion and alternate reality, filled with pseudo-everything: science, patriotism, intellectuality. The Rise of the Charlatans. The fringe coming home to roost. Illiberalism normalized. Crackpot conspiracies both-sided with legitimate critiques of official policies and approaches.
A tsunami of nonsense, depraved, toxic and dangerous, crashed through the window of opportunity that had opened, very, very briefly, for a serious discussion about the glaring inequities Covid made manifest as it laid waste discriminately along class and race lines. The poorest, least white and most vulnerable died and suffered in disproportionate numbers. Disparities decades, if not generations, in the making.
The now seemingly quaint, upbeat notion that made the rounds during the initial period of assessment of our subpar response to the pandemic, Life Would Never Be the Same Again, washed away with the postscript It Will Get Much, Much Worse.
Sometime around the second or third spike in cases, I turned 60 at almost the exact time my mother-in-law received a terminal cancer diagnosis. Nothing says Tick, Tock like the generation immediately ahead of you heading for the exits just as you’re getting a seniors’ discount at Rexall. First Thursday of every month, if memory serves which, increasingly, it doesn’t. Between 5 & 7.
There it is. Existential dread.
Time’s short and running out quickly. Better start checking off those boxes on your bucket list.
Ho fucking hum though, right? Wrestle with that cliché on your own time, guy. Not sure if you noticed but the planet’s on fire right now. When it’s not being submerged under water. Millions of people running for their lives, displaced from their homes. They wish their only concern was the impending arrival of their first pension cheque. Your getting old and dying keeps you up at night? Yeah well, nature’s dying, my friend. All around you. And it’s taking prisoners with it.
Undeniable, and while it delivers some much-needed perspective, it hardly diminishes the dread.
Yeah. I’m going to call it that.
A deep unrest filled with foreboding.
About things ever getting ‘better’. We’re just in choppy times right now. It’ll get sorted out. A down period, for sure, but the march of progress always trends upward. The arc of the universe and all that.
We, the fortunate ones, have been fed that narrative so it’s pretty much second nature, ingrained in our collective psyches. The sun’ll come up tomorrow! You can bet your bottom dollar!! Dread’s for the have-nots, the war torn and migrants born always in the wrong place at the wrong time. Those living paycheck to paycheck, precariously holding down two, three jobs. The people living with no roof over their heads, always wondering where their next meal’s going to come from.
History’s provided the means for the rest of us to die content in the belief that, if nothing else, we’ve left the world, our world, in better shape than the one we were born wailing into. More and more of us are living longer, healthier and happier lives than ever before! Remember the scourge of polio?!
But we, more specifically, me, my generation, the boomers, have succeeded in popping that balloon, haven’t we?
While such bouncy, Up With People sentiments have always been narrowly applied to the progeny of the plunderers and pillagers, the colonists and settlers, rapine’s children, it appears now that there’s a definite limit, a limit we’ve gone and breached. Willfully. There’s only so much anybody and anything can take. You don’t kill the golden goose and expect the only consequence to be a shortage of Fabergé eggs. To deliberately scramble my metaphor.
Covid was a warning shot. A loud thunderclap of a wake-up call. You think this is bad, motherfuckers? Wait for it. Wait. For. It. You need to get your collective act together. The good ship planet earth is preparing to move on without you. For the benefit of every other of its passengers.
And how have we responded, we the main perps in this catastrophic scenario? In an underwhelming manner ranging from M’eh to deranged denial, insisting, above all else, on our fundamental, god-given right to kill the messenger. We are proving to be in no way up to the daunting task that is facing us.
Before Covid reared its ugly face, pulled the mask back on our ugly faces, just a few short years ago, give or take, we, the privileged few, the benefactors of our own desecration, could put some comfortable distance between us and the reckoning. Time. Many of us banked on being long since dead before the shit really hit the fan. & Money. As we witnessed during the pandemic, many could simply flee to safer places. Big houses. Second homes in the country. Villas. Yachts. Private islands. All refuges for the unscathed.
Watching the world burn and flood this summer, smoke from wildfires thousands and thousands of miles away blanketing cities far to the south, that physical distance doesn’t feel as impregnable as it did before, does it? The apocalypse not quite as escapable. When it was somebody else flattened by a hurricane, or other people’s houses and belongings washed away in an overflowing river or burned to cinders, other people over there, those people, a long way over there, we could tuck ourselves away for a good night’s sleep with only a mild case of the uneasies. There, but for the grace of god… We’ll donate to the cause in the morning.
Not so much now.
We’ve earned the dread that wakes us up with a start in the middle of the night.
For all the wrong reasons.
For ignoring, as long as humanly possible, the fact that a great mass of us, an overwhelming majority, in fact, live with that dread each and every day of their lives and through absolutely no fault of their own. Their dread is ours, that we’ve exchanged with them for the life of ease which some of us lead.
Such an unbalanced trade-off is no longer tenable. Until we get serious about cleaning up the muck of things we’ve made, for the benefit of the few and misery for most, no one should be sleeping well.