May you live in interesting times.
– Fake Chinese curse per Wiki
It *is* fake, sadly, and so says The Quote Investigator, not just Wiki. Why sadly? Because it neatly captures the conundrum.
I like interesting books. Interesting people. Interesting theories. Interesting architecture. I *really* like interesting bridges. So why should the phrase “interesting times” provoke a different reaction? And yet it does. Somehow it doesn’t make me think of the Renaissance or the Age of Exploration, which unfolded slowly. I think instead of times that started with a bang: literally or figuratively. Any and every war. The Great Depression. Even the social upheaval of the 1960s. Interesting times indeed, but the label only seems to apply when I have the luxury of a retro-perspective.
Because, of course, at the human level these were also uncertain times. Precarious and anxiety-making times. Dangerous and unsettling times. Scary and difficult and unpredictable times. And — maybe worst of all – unschedulable times. Going into WWII, for instance, of course no one knew how it would end. But neither did they know when.
I find it hardest to adjust to unpleasantness when I don’t know for how long I have to do it. I think of my lower-back pain that comes without warning and leaves when it’s ready. Of the foot soreness that appears overnight from nowhere. As each charming ache-and-pain episode arises I first wonder, “Is this a permanent blight on the otherwise sunshiny landscape of my life, or a passing irritation?” And then I get a grip, because surely it won’t be permanent, but then I wonder, “How long do I have to hold on?”
I’ve never watched the clock, waiting for cancer-pain medication administered on a schedule, or watched a loved one do it, but that scene always brings me to tears. Because, of course, it neatly captures so many aspects of our human condition.
And it neatly captures what I’m feeling now with the COVID-19 pandemic.
We are in interesting times, for sure. They won’t last forever, I’m pretty sure. But whether this pandemic is a mildly painful inconvenience (as it is for me) or economic and personal agony (as it is for some others), how long do we have to hold on?