Sometimes it seems like everything has changed and nothing will ever be the same. From another angle, though, it looks to me like things are pretty much the same as they’ve always been — amped up, for sure, but basically the same stuff, different day. Maybe both things are true.
Everything is different, and that has always been the case.
The world will never be the same, and that’s how it’s been all along, every step of the way.
I don’t say this lightly. My family is grieving a terrible and untimely loss from Covid-19 this week. So absolutely, I do not mean to minimize anything that people are dealing with right now. There’s a hell of a lot up for each of us individually. And collectively we are facing issues on a scale more daunting than anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes — a reckoning around racial injustice and systemic inequality, an unsustainable economy, and multi-fronted environmental crises, all in addition to the global pandemic. Damn, folks.
And yet… while this new world in which we’re living is scary and new and unknown, maybe the very fact of its unknown newness is a perfect example of how it’s the same as it ever was.
I keep finding myself on the verge of total overwhelm. A lot of people are wondering how we will ever get through such uncertain times. In truth, though, I think that everything has always been this uncertain. And I expect that we will get through it how we’ve always gotten through it — by putting one foot in front of the other, making the best of what we can, doing the best we know how to do, and stepping into the unknown.
You may ask yourself, “What is that beautiful house?”– Once in a Lifetime, by David Byrne and the Talking Heads
You may ask yourself, “Where does that highway go to?”
And you may ask yourself, “Am I right? Am I wrong?”
And you may say to yourself, “My God! What have I done?
In quieter times, granted, things have probably tended to seem much more predictable and solid than they do right now. But when I think about it, I realize that most of that seeming solidity has really been just a collection of convenient assumptions. I assumed that life would go on as expected, and for the most part most things did. And as long as they did, while they did, it felt pretty normal and manageable. But in reality the possibility of unexpected upsets, big and small, has always been right around the corner. The future has always been wide open, for good and for ill, to who-knows-what. All of us have faced the unexpected and unknown over and over again.
The social, cultural, and political conversations we’re having feel especially loud and contentious, full of anger and fear. People are demanding, rightly, fundamental shifts in how we see ourselves and relate to each other. It’s passionate and messy, and it rattles to the core. It may feel like things have gone wrong, like our world and identities have been irreparably destabilized. Heck, yeah, it’s unstable. Yeah, it’s unbalanced. That’s what people have been saying from the beginning.
Here’s the thing — birthing something new, bearing ourselves anew, is supposed to knock off-kilter what has come before. And, again, I think if we took a breath and thought about it, we’d see that we’ve been in this process all along.
This is the march of human progress — creating ourselves and our world as we go — same as it ever was.
Horrible things and wonderful things are happening right now — same as it ever was.
It is perfectly reasonable that we might long for things to return to “normal,” whatever we mean by that. There are plenty of ways that I’d like to have my old life back, the way it used to be. But I also recognize that there’s something available if I can allow and embrace the fact that nobody’s life has ever moved backward. We have always urged and surged forward, creating forward. And this forward momentum, always, has led into mystery. Same as it ever was.
The questions now are the questions we’ve always faced, whether we were aware of them or not, whether we asked them out loud or not: Who do we want to be with this? What do we want to create in this?
We may wish for peace and harmony, familiar comforts, and connections with each other. The only way that we’re going to experience anything that we wish for is to be it and create it together.
We may long, on the other hand, for transformations and reconfigurations and realignments. Better buckle up. We get to participate in being those and creating those together, too.
My title this week comes from the Talking Heads 1981 hit, “Once In a Lifetime.” (Dang, I can’t believe that song is almost 40 years old). It’s a song of existential irony. The phrase “once in a lifetime” describes a rare occurrence, something extraordinary or singular. But the song also contains the trancelike refrain, “Same as it ever was… same as it ever was…” Once again, I’m struck by the fact that every moment is brand-new and wholly without precedent at the same time that it has always and forever been brand-new and wholly without precedent. It sounds contradictory. I guess it is. That’s the ticket.
I saw a Muppet Show cover of Kermit the Frog and Company singing this Talking Heads tune in a shot-by-shot recreation of the original music video. If I can find it again, that’ll be our sacred reading this week.
© 2020 Drew Groves