Sarah remarked that right now a number the people who write alternate columns for her are having interesting lives.
As my life has progressed I have pondered the Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” I have concluded that what is considered as interesting times changes with perspective.
When I was in school I thought of the curse as quite a threat, generally encompassing great disasters and upheavals. I thought of interesting times as The Revolution (American and French), The Late Great Unpleasantness, The Great Depression and World War II. You know, those big things you learned about in the history books.
I guess that The Cold War would likely have counted as interesting as well. The Bomb and the threat of nuclear war have always been a part of my life. My earliest political memory is a speech given by President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. (I admit I probably only remember it because it interrupted the movie King Kong.) To my parents and grandparents the Cold War was a real and active threat, but to me it was situation normal, an ongoing background noise that was always there.
As was racial unrest. I was raised with the stories of the Freedom Rides and Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney. I recall being quite put out with my parents for not going down to join the protests in the southeast. The pastor and a few congregants from the Unitarian Church in center city Philadelphia had joined with others to take a bus load of people to participate. In my child’s brain I did not consider the real world responsibilities that my parents carried. At that time my father was working and going to law school, and my mother was taking care of me.
I watched on the TV as Watts was torn apart, as rioters and looters went on a rampage. There were major riots in the city in which I lived, although not in the immediate neighborhood. That seemed more urgent than the Cold War, but having been raised conscious of the situation, it had always been a part of my life. At one point I had organized all five year olds in my household for a protest march through my neighborhood. My mother kept the sign I made to her dying day.
Having always known the Cold War and racial unrest I did not think of them as qualifying as interesting times. They were simply what was going on, my reality. I now know better. I also sadly note, in spite of hopeful reports of their passing, that recent events have proved that they really are not gone from the world stage.
I am, obviously, older now. With experience, a broader study of history, and the wide availability 24/7 news I have long since realized that it is a truth that somewhere the world is going though some kind of interesting times. The political and social upheaval may not be on our immediate door step, but it is out there. While in the past distance might isolate us from the effects, with the global markets, it is more likely that some region’s instability will be felt.
I have also steadily expanded the definition of what constitutes interesting times. Living through a five year drought, reading about the effects of the great grasshopper plagues in the western planes, the 1927 Mississippi River flood and events such as Krakatoa have added natural disasters to the mix.
Yet the biggest change came with the realization that simply being alive meant that you were going to live through interesting times. Interesting times do not just involve disasters of cataclysmic proportions. They can be personal or familial, created by the upheavals that occur just because you are alive.
Just this year I have watched as people who I know (and their families) have had their lives change in a moment, when they receive a diagnosis from a doctor. A lovely young woman, a careful eater with an active lifestyle, had an unusual and entirely unexpected rare bi-lateral stroke. (She is slowly recovering, thank you.) A friend in her mid-forties with a loving husband and two young children had been feeling just a little under the weather throughout the summer. She finally decided to go to the doctor. Sunday morning she succumbed to leukemia after a grueling six month battle.
Moreover the circumstances do not have to be what we would necessarily call bad. A friend who has struggled to get pregnant and carry to term for years received the news that she is expecting twins. At first she struggled with fears of loosing them. Now, at twenty-three weeks along, everything looks good and she is thrilled. Still it is proving to be an exhausting challenge physically. (Those of us who have only ever had to deal with one small child underfoot at a time are doing our best to be encouraging and not to tell her of the exhaustion that comes with that.)
So now, my definition of the interesting times of the curse can be anything from the global to the personal situations that threaten to overwhelm. Even those who make the best of plans and prepared for their lives are going to experience them. We cannot anticipate or control for everything. So we best develop a sense of humor, and pray for some boring times. While you are at it make a conscious effort to treasure and enjoy those good things come your way even in the midst of your interesting times.