Over the past eighteen months or so I have had many opportunities to muse to myself (and occasionally to others) about the disastrous state of life in the age of Covid, and how it is that the response of maladroit governments and other institutions to Covid as an infectious disease have made the entire world live a Nathanish existence and they don’t like it that much. 2020 was a historically bad year in the eyes of many people (at least those whose life experience has been relatively sheltered and who are young enough not to have been around truly horrific years), but for me it was more or less an average year. 2021 is actually a better than average year by the standard of my life so far but a year that is by no means very much better for the world at large than 2020 was. This disconnect between my own subjective experience and the (equally subjective) experience of others around me is something that I tend to find puzzling and also very interesting.
Let us take as a case study my experience of the Feast of Tabernacles. This evening I had the opportunity to socially distantly chat with my roommate, who is definitely not feeling very well at the moment, and he commented about how his feast this year was basically the worst feast ever for him. This is not surprising, given that his feast was cut short, he ended up feeling like death slightly warmed over–not an enjoyable feeling at his or any age–and he even missed fellowship beforehand because of the desire of his feast roommate’s wife to spend time with her husband not not fellowship with anyone else. On the other hand, while I would not consider this feast to be the best feast ever, it was at least an average to better than average feast that offered very lovely physical and spiritual food (both of which I have commented about at length) and offered the opportunity to serve and socialize, even if both were affected by the health woes of some of those around me.
It has repeatedly struck me that my general awkward and socially distant ways, which are a distinct liability for me in most of my life, are in fact somewhat of an advantage in times like these. To be sure, I would like to be less socially awkward, there are situations where it is not so much of a bad thing to be so. In an age where no one is sure if they should be affectionate or distant, where everyone is somewhat schizoid about their intimacy with others and the potential ramifications of that, those of us who are that way on a regular basis stand out less. And the fact that such times as our own present evil age are not so different from my run of the mill existence convinces me more and more that the world just is not prepared to live a Nathanish existence, and seems not to be able to handle it very well. I am not sure that this should make me feel better about how I tend to cope with life, but it certainly gives me an interesting perspective on how others are struggling with it.
It is also rather telling that the harrowing experiences of others dealing with the stresses and pressures of an awkward and socially distant existence does not in fact make my own existence any more (or less) enjoyable than it otherwise would be. I feel no malicious enjoyment that the rest of the world is having a more or less terrible time dealing with the uncertainty of social relationships or about how candid they can feel about airing their frustrations with the incompetent response of incompetent authorities who are caught between the desire to keep everyone safe and the inability to do so, despite their own claims to the contrary which serve as the legitimization of their increasingly flailing attempts to manage the situation, now a year and a half in with no demonstration that anyone in charge has any better idea on how to improve things now than they did at the beginning. This too is an awkwardness that I am familiar with, the desire to make things better without knowing exactly how but being compelled for reasons of pride and dignity to pretend as if it were so.
Knowledge by itself does not create empathy. To understand, even very intimately, what other people are going through and how they would rather it be not so without having the power to make it so, no matter what they may try to do, does not make it easier to feel or make it known that one feels for someone else. To know the struggles of others to deal with the complicated feelings that the contemporary age forces on us all does not make us feel any more kindly towards those whose incompetence makes our own lives more difficult and more isolated and less enjoyable. The fact that we may not be the most competent of people in our own personal lives does not make it any easier to be charitable towards those whose earnest and well-meaning incompetence infringes on our own existence. I believe that it should, but there is often space what what is and what ought to be. That which is in the head does not easily find its way to the heart.