Disclaimer: Coronavirus is extremely serious – please stay safe. Care for yourselves, your loved ones, and your neighbors. Please be a good global citizen and think about the people who are in at-risk categories even if you are not, those who don’t have financial security if you do, and those without access to quality healthcare if you yourself have it.
It’s a bad and scary time for the world, but a good time to practice compassion.
Coronavirus, History, and Robert’s Rebellion
I’ve always found history intoxicatingly interesting. Not just real history, but the history presented in epic stories, TV shows, and movies. There’s something about unraveling the secrets within past events that keeps me glued to the pages far more closely than the story itself can.
What’s fascinating to think about, especially during times like these, is how people have a tough time grasping the enormous and difficult concept that they are living through something with historical significance while it is actually happening.
Several days ago I could look out my window in Washington D.C. and see people going about their daily business. 14th St was packed as usual, tiny figures sweeping back and forth to shop, run errands, see friends. I even had my normal Instagram Story queue of people out celebrating and drinking at bars.
Then, just a few days ago, I drove through DC to head out to the suburbs to isolate. The sidewalks were completely empty. It wasn’t even a ghost town. The ghosts were gone.
On the one hand my rational mind knows that things are bad and scary, and that they’re still going to get worse before they get better – but on the other hand it’s hard for me to fully grasp, even while looking at the stark images on the news. I mean, what did I do today? I woke up, had breakfast, opened my computer, and began to work. Later I’ll do an outdoor workout on the driveway. Then I’ll have dinner. Maybe watch a movie.
What’s really all that different there?
If in 20 years this is a major historical event, what will I say when my kids ask me how crazy it was to live through? Will I tell them I was rioting in the streets? Locked in the dark holding my breath? Or will it be the chillingly boring truth – that during a severe crisis my life didn’t really change all that much (perhaps until I had to deal with the aftermath).
I guess the point is simple: It’s hard to fully grasp living through a time with historical significance until it either reaches its climax, it reaches its end, or (especially, mostly) in hindsight.
At the time it just feels like life, because it is. Yes, life is crazy at the moment, and life is especially scary today, but I’m not sitting around in a chair spending 10 hours thinking about how generation-defining this event could be. Yes, I watch the news, I think about how surreal it is, but at the same time that’s just me sitting on a couch with my girlfriend and my dog in front of the TV together. That’s normal. What’s on TV isn’t normal: White House addresses, reports from other countries, NBA/NHL/MLB/NCAA/PGA cancelling or postponing sports, the stories of the sick and those who have left us. But we watch TV most nights of the week. And (don’t get my started on the news right now) most nights of the week the bulk of what we see is bad news.
So will I have a quote in the history books (one that might very well have several chapters on Coronavirus) where I say, “I mean, not that much has changed in my routine. The content on TV is vastly different, but the act of watching it is not,” followed by a narrator who says, “He had no idea what was to come”?
The Sneaky Quality of Current Events
In Game of Thrones, arguably the biggest cultural phenomenon of modern television / storytelling in general (since Harry Potter at least), we watched events that for 3-4 seasons that felt a whole lot like the aftermath of a much bigger series of events. Robert’s Rebellion, some 16 years in the past, overshadowed everything. I found myself thinking, ‘Wow, I really wish we could have watched that instead.’ The way they talked about the heroes from that time is epic, the accolades they earned, the monikers, the glory. I never realized that all of these things can only be awarded after the conclusion of the event in question, and that I very well might be witnessing something just as grand.
It was only in the later seasons that I realized how much bigger these events actually were than those past. 5 dead kings. Dragons. Apocalypse. Shocking executions. Prophecies. Red weddings. Lover’s killing each other for the good of the realm. The shattering of centuries-old kingdoms.
While viewing, we experienced each of the above as single events, whereas we had the benefit of hearing about Robert’s Rebellion in its entirety the whole time.
At the outset of WWII, did they look back at WWI (i.e. The Great War), and think, At least it’s not that? At the outset of the Vietnam war, did they do the same with WWII? During the Gulf War, did they look back with the same thoughts toward Vietnam?
With a few exceptions, history usually looms far larger in our minds than the current events that happen all around us. Sometimes the past feels larger. Sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes it isn’t incomparable – huge historical events aren’t a competition, after all.
Leaving the real world behind for a moment (and with the utmost respect to the people currently suffering through it), I wanted to turn to the world of fictional stories for a moment.
I’ve always wanted to pull this kind of a trick on a reader. Like they did in GoT – when they made Robert’s Rebellion seem like the event of the generation until things got so crazy in the present that current events finally stepped out from behind the rebellion’s shadow. I loved the slow realization that we were watching the true conflict, that the great rebellion had been but a precursor.
If you read anything from me in the near future, keep an eye out for this, because it’s something I’ll be working on. I want my readers to yearn to find out the truth of what happened in the past, all while the events of the story slowly build and sneak up on them. In the end, they should put the book down and be floored. Wow, what did I just witness?
The first step? Understanding how it actually feels in real life. Like I said: At the moment, I’m still struggling to fully get my head around the enormity it.
Anyway, I really really hope everyone is staying as safe as they can, reading good books, and trying to keep upbeat wherever possible.
And I hope you enjoyed my thoughts on the power the past holds over the present. Much love to all of you.