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Both abject modesty and irrefutable reality conspire to the admission that I am no Charles Dickens. He was arguably the greatest writer of the Victorian era, whose name and work are mentioned in concert with Shakespeare, Tolkien, Salinger, Fitzgerald and Twain.
I, on the other hand write gibberish unencumbered by literary construct along with any pretense of proper punctuation, with my work often displayed in cat litter boxes all over southern Maine. (In general, it’s good to know your limitations. Mine are many. But, cats do appear to like me and my absorbency.)
But this weekend, I found myself stuck in a synchronous orbit with Dickens and the opening paragraph from his epic novel, “A Tale of Two Cities,” with “… best of times … worst of times” looping in my head for hours on end.
Though written more than 150 years ago about the class struggle in France between the “have nots” (homeless, unemployed, peasants, etc.) and the “haves” (wealthy aristocrats), the novel itself features the French Revolution as both story line and cautionary tale.
From the pen of Dickens:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
From my keyboard:
What he said.
That was my epiphany this weekend – that we’re now collectively living a sad reality within a fictional Dickens novel.
Best of times: By numerous measures, these are the best of times. Modern medicine keeps advancing and saving or extending lives everywhere, technology has allowed us to reach every inch of our planet and into millions of miles of space, and our computerized access to knowledge allows for instantaneous understanding in all aspects of life.
Worst of times: By many measures, these are also the worst of times. Despite modern medicine, chronic illness (diabetes, cancer, heart disease, etc.) still prevail, the expansion of our technology in many cases (industrialized countries, fossil fuels, chemicals, etc.) threatens our planet (oceans, lakes, atmosphere, etc.,) while acts of war and human suffering here in the U.S. and around the world continue in a seemingly complex spiral of death and destruction.
Age of wisdom: Maybe. Maybe not. While we certainly have incredible access to information, it’s hard to read a newspaper or magazine without questioning any evidence of evolving wisdom. There are plenty of examples of madness, fear and anger here and abroad, but wisdom? Even when intelligent thought or wisdom is presented, too often it is dismissed or ridiculed by dark or dumb counter-forces in the context of “I just disagree” (gun policy statistics, climate change, Donald Trump is a dangerous clown-candidate who has already deeply hurt our country, etc.)
Age of foolishness: Donald Trump is now the de facto leader of one of our countries two major political parties, and is in position to possibly become our president and commander-in-chief. How can any sane, reasonable, non-foolish, person look at Trump’s long list of business and political crimes and misdemeanors and not just laugh at his candidacy? Followed by crying at the mere possibility of Trump being the moral, political and military leader of our country. No humor here. Just crazy.
Epoch of incredulity: Gov. Paul LePage. Period.
Season of darkness: As the world population keeps expanding, the aperture of broken human spirit, plight of wide-reaching mental illness, addiction to drugs and religious fanaticism, and socio-economic disenfranchisement all increase. We can no longer simply incarcerate or segregate these inconvenient truths away. They are us. We are them. Deeper understanding and better solutions must be found pertaining to the fragile state of our human condition.
Season of light: For a few weeks after the horrific tragedy of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I vividly remember a shift in our national mood and character. The shock of such an atrocity seemed to awaken our better angels and our country shared a common purpose to heal and a collective desire to support one another. Regionally, those same feelings associated with our shared humanities took place after the Boston Marathon bombings. Why are those seasons of light all too brief and only stirred in the aftermath of tragedy?
I’ve run out of runway, time and emotion for this column. My original plan was to end it with a few clever comparisons between Little Hands Trump and Little Man Napoleon, but I’ve hit a Dickens of a wall.
Ultimately, I will always choose the light and seek out the best, here in Maine and beyond. Today, the waters of Casco Bay beckon. For the time I have is now, and it is time itself that is my most precious possession.
Steve Woods is from away, but fully here now, living in Yarmouth, working in Falmouth, traveling the world, and trying his best. His column appears every other week. He can also be heard each Saturday at 11 a.m. on WLOB-AM 1310.