I never knew the apocalypse would be so… well-decorated.
If you’re like me, you’ve spent many of this quarantine days oscillating between, “oh, this lovely dinner on the patio with friends feels almost like normal!” and “democracy is dead/civilization is crumbling around us/everything is on fire/we’re all gonna die.” I’m here in my work-from-home situation, which is not entirely different from what it was before, other than the no-travel thing, and The Children being generally around–everywhere, every minute, all the time– having school on computers in their rooms instead of at actual school. Some days, it’s nice out and they play with friends. We have people over to sit on the deck. We go for hikes. We make dinner. Things feel like… well, if not normal, then at least ‘usual.’
Then there are the days when we reckon with how very unsustainable this all is, not just for us but for the larger, corporate “Us:” the uncertainty; the political boiling points; the precarious economy; and the endless global realities that continue to deteriorate, even in the midst of a pandemic that feels like it should be enough chaos, all on its own, without climate change, natural disasters, and countless escalating conflicts around the world.
So which is it- is life normal, fine, and totally okay? Or is everything burning?
I think, for most of us, the answer is: yes. On both counts. Two things can be true at once- in fact, an infinite number of things can be true at once. We can be functioning, even borderline thriving; while also feeling profoundly fragile and knowing things could collapse at any moment. People can be utterly selfish, callous and cruel; and people can also be selfless, kind, and utterly extraordinary. We can know pain so deep we can scarcely come up for air; and we can know such transcendent healing and hope that we can scarcely keep from lifting off the ground with the joy of it all.
Whichever of these truths is true for today–or if you are doing that impossible dance between the two– know that just naming the paradox of it all is, itself, an act of hope.
This much is also true: whatever comes after this, however we might want to call it ‘normal,’ will never be. We might get to a place of relative safety and comfort- but it will not be the life that has been, life as we know it. We’re living through a reckoning. With ourselves, our family connections, our institutions; we have sifted through, claimed what is good and true and life-giving. We have also born witness to the cracks in the foundation. We have seen where things fall apart. We have seen the absolute best and worst of our friends and neighbors.
We have made note of the fights we need to pick later.
We have let go of things that used to seem like fights, but in the midst of this great falling away, seem less like conflict and more like clarity.
This reckoning that we’re living through is an apocalypse, in the truest sense of the word. Our cinematic fixations might leave us feeling like zombies must, by necessity, be involved in anything deemed apocalyptic. Or we are waiting for the complete decimation of the landscape. Or, at the very least, a Stephen-King scale pandemic that wipes out wide swaths of the population… well. Maybe on that count, we got a little closer to the movie version. But in any case. We are living through the end of what we’ve known – and that is apocalyptic in the truest sense of the world.
You’ll hear a lot of religious extremists these days talking about the end times- God coasting down with an entourage of horsemen and a lot of fire and fury (sometimes the biblical is cinematic in its own way); but that’s not what this particular ending is about. We are just witnessing a falling away. And that, really, is what the season of Advent has always been about. It’s just that most years, we bury it in presents, activities, and happy jingle-jangle that we start singing right around Halloween.
This year- maybe it’s down to just the falling away. And how we are left with the reckoning.
I went for a walk tonight as it was getting dark, and took in the sights of my neighborhood Christmas decor – strings of tiny bulbs hung as small signs of joy, small testaments of hope, small acts of resistance against the encroaching darkness of winter and… whatever the hell else it is that hangs over our heads these days.
And I thought… I never knew the apocalypse would be so well-decorated. That these small acts of tradition could bear witness to a lingering, resilient joy that abides in all things. On the one hand, is it utterly ridiculous that we’re all out here, decorating for the apocalypse? Or are these small acts of joy and resistance a glimpse of a coming new day, in a very biblical sense, when all will be made new?