“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” is the opening line of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. That book was probably a required reading for most of us in our adolescence that went over our heads at the time. The phrase suggests an age of radical opposites taking place at the same time. In the book’s case, it juxtaposes French Revolution era London and Paris and various characters in those cities. I think it’s appropriate to view this worldwide pandemic in the same way.
By definition, this can be described as “the worst of times” since the COVID-19 outbreak is an unprecedented, horrific event. In this instantaneous information age, we have a front row seat to the deadly impact of this virus on a daily basis. We have become numb to the number of people dying unless it touches us directly. Luckily, for most of us, that will not be the case. But the visuals of freezer trucks being parked at hospitals to house the deceased and the reports of too few N-95 masks drive home the reality of what’s happening around us.
What could be worse than knowing an existing condition or your age makes you more susceptible to the virus? How do you cope with the knowledge that a perfectly healthy person in that category exposed to the novel coronavirus could see their health rapidly diminish with no effective treatment? Even if death occurs in just one percent of those afflicted, it is a frightening scenario.
So how does “the best of times” enter the conversation? Though we cannot point to any silver lining connected to this crisis, there will be an end to it. Exactly what that looks like remains to be seen, but any constructive residual impact lies somewhere in the humanity of our reaction to the virus. This beast knows no borders, doesn’t recognize race or ethnicity and doesn’t distinguish political differences. It attacks indiscriminately and has literally brought the entire human race to its knees. And perhaps that’s exactly what the world needed.
How we change after getting up off the mat to defeat and control the COVID-19 virus in the future will shape what life in the aftermath looks like. If we recognize that, for a moment, we were able to set aside our differences and prejudices and simply support each other, we have a chance of gleaning something positive from the virus. “The best of times” is the potential in all of this … in all of us.
The possibility of transformation is the message of The Tale of Two Cities. The closing line of the book is “It’s a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done…” uttered by a character about to sacrifice his life for a better world. We need not make that sacrifice to make the world a better place post-coronavirus. We only need to slightly change our view of each other and always, always appreciate the simple things in our lives.