"Genuinely seismic world events are clinical underscores that do not just brand generations, but alter how global populations feel and think about basically everything."
By Jonathan Bonfiglio
There comes a moment in every crisis where we pause for breath, look to the future and gauge how the world has changed; what we have learned; what will never be the same again.
With some rare, generation-defining crises, the axis of shift is so great that we in fact come to wonder how things were ever different before, even if before was a week or even a day ago - as though before was some kind of mirage that only ever served to lead up to this moment in time.
The greater the axis of shift, in fact, the more unrecognizable are the past versions of ourselves.
Out over the stormy waters of the Coronavirus rubicon, the events which are summoned forward to contextualize where we find ourselves are so frankly occasional that almost no-one now remembers them - barely anyone can speak to the Second World War - and when it comes to the Spanish Flu which so terribly bookended the First World War, generating more casualties in a few short months than the entire slaughtered war dead, the only voices still available to us are those clipped accents recorded for historic retelling in the classroom, voices now so much heavier because they are no longer voices of the past, but now recognizably our recorded voices to the future. This is how we will sound, in the retelling, long after we have survived, then died of some random unseen accident close to home, in our living room, even slipping off a third stair - never once in our entire habitation of the place we called home sensing the great, surprising danger of our own light height.
Because, finally, what is a world event? A fall in the price of crude? Perhaps - but it falls, it rises - the world reacts, big-scale, small-scale, but reorders itself, finding level like water. Wars, disorder, strife? Yes, even if far away they are here, but if nothing else the never-ending wars in Afghanistan and the Iraq debacle (remember once when the only Iraq news we heard was that of the Iran-Iraq war, for years?) teach us that global events actually have the ability to terrorize those in the thick of it but affect us invested proxies not. one. jot. at. all.
Genuinely seismic world events are clinical underscores that do not just brand generations, but alter how global populations feel and think about basically everything, and in that sense they are of course existential in that they are what they are but also much more importantly that they are what they make us feel.
There is a clear before, a period which will forever come to be marked by the ‘pre-’, followed by a seemingly unending present - a living through the damned thing - filled with the unsilenceable questioning of how on earth we get through whatever it is we are actually going through because none of us actually understand any of the seventeen million different components of this unholy mess which can only be fully understood by having a handle on the other 16.99 million causes and effects and unknowns and hypotheticals.
And then there is the after; the curious, soft dawn of the after.
There we will be, those of us still around, lucky or unlucky enough to have made it through, standing on the other side of that now becalmed water, looking back over it, wondering at one and the same time if it was really ever as bad as it felt, and also quietly, suspiciously, if we are really done with this thing after all or if there is still some dreadful sting in the hidden tail. Then gradually, ever so gradually, turning our mind to that thing we had lost all rights to: the future.
Only then will we start to recognize the Coronavirus rubicon, see its Emperor’s New Clothes. Only then will we recognize companions which had - we thought - appeared solely to get us through the crisis times, and see that they had mission-crept their place into something new, unexpected and unwelcome, because who at the time realized how haunted we were to become by the phrase Pre-Emptive Strike, or realize how seemingly rational anti-terror legislation could be summarily co-opted by unscrupulous rulers who achieved their position purely by recognizing the carrion call of circumstantial opportunity. When the towers fell, who once thought that on that pretext would Poland demand deportation of one of its citizens from London for suspected bike theft.
It will be a strange place, the far bank of that river, once over never to be uncrossed again.
Whatever we are left with, whenever that ends up being, it will feel like we have been there before, somehow like we have reached home, finally, but in fact will be setting out for the first time onto a strange, faraway land.
Jonathan Bonfiglio is a writer and journalist. As well as being Latin America Correspondent for Talk Radio, he writes features for a variety of media outlets, and is the author of multiple critically-acclaimed plays, as well as ad hoc poetry and prose pieces.