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Pickle Me This

April 13, 2020

“I’m in the dark, feeling my way…”

I don’t know where it goes from here. I’m in the dark, feeling my way… Maybe my actions…are futile, I have no way of knowing… The future, in my world, has always been obscure. I have come to appreciate its darkness. To see far ahead—to know exactly what is to happen—robs us of unexpected sparks.” —Cordelia Strube, Misconduct of the Heart

My favourite restaurant has pivoted. After a month of being closed, they’ve reopened selling groceries and meal-kits, and because they are my favourite, because their food is delicious, and because they’re probably the first place I’m going to go “once this is all over” so I want to do my part to make sure there’s still a place to go to, I made my order minutes after their new website launched, and I was struck by the automated response I received. A response I’m sorry now I didn’t write down verbatim, but it was something along the lines of, “Okay, we have no idea how all this is actually going to work. We’re still figuring everything out as we go.”

And it was so refreshing to read that, and resonated with me on all kinds of levels. It was an honesty that few other businesses/institutions/people have been willing to engage with these last few weeks, understandably enough, I guess. But it was the first time I felt like I was hearing from somebody who was actively engaging with reality. (It is not a surprise either that someone actively engaging with reality has done such a fantastic job of re-imagining a way to have their business work and serve their customers at such an unprecedented moment in time.)

Nobody knows. Such an incredible, impossible thing. Literally incredible, even, if you delve into the responses on politicians’ social media posts or read that forwarded email from your cousin about how Covid-19 is actually a biological weapon intentionally released by Saudi Arabian desert camels. Or even the outraged tweets and op-eds by pundits who seems to be confused how science happens and how knowledge works, accusing public health officials of more flip-flopping than poor John Kerry back in 2004. Who seem to think there’s a conspiracy theory about why our understanding of the virus has changed since mid-February, and are just as frustrated as the rest of us as to the lack of answers—how has this happened? Why’s it so bad? Why weren’t we prepared? When will it end? There’s not even anybody properly to blame, though that’s not stopped an awful lot of people from trying. How do you tell a story after all when there’s no certainty? No answers?

I’ve given up properly following the story. The answers aren’t there yet. After a straight week of losing my mind, refreshing Twitter over and over and desperately worrying about the fate of Tom Hanks, watching the numbers climb—I stopped. I don’t get paid enough to tune into daily press conferences and watching mounting death tolls. It serves nobody if I do, me least of all. So I stopped freaking out and returned to reading books instead, which were solid and contained. There were answers there and even lessons applicable to our current situation, uncanny signs sometimes. Of course, I read the weekend papers when they were delivered to my door, and looked at the news here and there on the news page my phone suggested for me (though the algorithm figured me out and soon it was all about sourdough bread). I paid some attention to the world outside, followed Boris Johnson’s medical journey quite closely, have myself been following public health guidelines so my ignorance puts nobody at risk, and I have read some extraordinary stories—read “Sirenland,” by Briallen Hopper. Read the Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur on Bobcaygeon. There’s incredible journalism going on by now, but it’s being told by the people who are willing to accept that we don’t have answers yet and that it will be some time before we do.

“Okay, we have no idea how all this is actually going to work. We’re still figuring everything out as we go.”

It is interesting, is how I can frame it on my better days, when the sun is shining and the sky is blue, when I wake up and look forward to something ahead, even if it’s just discovering how my sourdough loaf has risen overnight. It is interesting to see so much learning happening, to see science in action, that there is no real definitive authority on what’s going on right now, that we really are—from internationally renowned health experts to the guy stocking cans in the grocery store—literally making it up as we go along. We are learning how fast things can change, how connected we all are, how essential science really is, that learning never quits and there’s always more, and the world is more amazing, unfathomable, untameable, random and strange that even the smartest of us will ever properly understand.

It’s also humbling—in a way that many of us could stand to learn a lesson from. Lessons that could change the world.

There was never certainty anyway. From the quote by Elizabeth Gilbert, which I came upon by way of my fave podcast, “You are afraid of surrender because you don’t want to lose control. But you never had control; all you had is anxiety.” The illusion of it all finally exposed, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Even though it’s hard and it hurts.

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