Born under a Bad Sign

What must it be like to be born in dire times?

I can tell you.

In what dire times were you born?


You are then at most six months old, yet you can articulate your existential position?

Yes, of course. The evidence is right in front of you.

Am I to believe you?

It does not matter. I invented you.

Really? Does not the question come before the answer?

Oh, we could have a galloping discussion on that animal. Perhaps the answer invents the question. But, you had a prior question. And then you strayed.

Well, all right: what must it be like to be born in dire times?

All times are dire, somewhere, my friend. The voices, like you, who wonder about dire times as if they are a deviation from the norm have been lucky enough to live in an impossibly narrow sliver of untroubled space and time, a secret garden. The politicos have christened it privilege, but let’s cut the pejorative innuendo and just say you’re incredibly lucky. Life could have gone in another direction. It often does. Stretching endlessly to your left and right outside the walls are troubles, and in those troubles are lived most lives.

Still, there are things we all have in common. We’re all a bit unhappy at first, having been jettisoned from warmth and darkness to the cold and bright. But we adjust. We have a delightful sense of wonder for a while. We want to be held. We want to suckle. We like being swaddled a great deal.

But what about the pandemic? Demonstrations in cities? Racial oppression? The deconstruction of leadership? What is it like being born in these dire times?

As I’m sure you know, I’m just an infant and have no cognizance of those things. Those are adult matters. And when I am an adult I will do all the destructive things that adults are doing now. And all the creative things. But, you know, we lean a little heavily toward the destructive. We’re a troublesome species. I’m sure you’ve noticed.

All very interesting, but did you not understand that I was asking what it was like being born at this existential moment?

Being born—the biological act—involves pretty much the same variations on the same practices at any time.

But what about fear of contagion in the hospital? Fear of human contact—even by family—once home?

I’m just an infant. I think you’re talking about my parents.

Yes, I suppose: so what is it like for them?

I have no idea. Ask me again in about twenty-five years.

But for now, even though we’ve talked about it, you have no fear or doubt or dismay about being born in such turbulence?

Look! Bird bird. Sorry. Well, I’m still young enough that I don’t yet do fear, doubt, and dismay. I suppose I will soon enough. Fear is quite real, I hear. We do have the fight or flight thing. Dismay, doubt, and the like, at least the hand-wringing type, seem to be rather useless, but sadly perhaps unavoidable.

Am I to conclude that you have nothing to offer in this conversation? That you have no solutions, no answers, no insight, no epiphany for the times?

I am a little ball of life. I am, through no effort of my own, of course, miraculous. You want to know what it’s like giving birth and being born in dire times. It’s full of fear and doubt and dismay, and it’s miraculous. As always.

And for those outside the secret garden?

It’s full of fear and doubt and dismay, and it’s miraculous. Ask them. Don’t do that thing where you make up answers for them and feel grand about it.

Hungry now.

You know there’s a risk these days even to imply that you have a thought about our troubled times, don’t you? That trouble may follow the merest hint you’ve stepped outside an impossibly narrow sliver of that thing they call discourse?

Adults. They’re so weird. Full of fear and doubt and dismay and righteousness, with an ever-decreasing measure of the miraculous. Yet never devoid, I think. Never devoid.

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