How do you act when the world is ending?

I imagine that when the flood comes, we all, one way or another, like to see ourselves as Noah. We stand tall, we have the answers.We have the bigass boat. We’re Kipling’s man in the storm, we’ll weather it while everyone else loses their minds.

But how do you act when the world is ending?

I’d been acting under this hanging question for the better part of a year even before the flood. This had been my final year as a teacher — at least, perhaps, for now — and I would do right by my kids. I gave them all I had left, I spent every waking moment I had left with them, the ministry of presence, the long conversations,the giving of gifts of knowledge. I was so damn proud of what I’d done. And I left with my head held high.

I thought I’d acted right even as the world had been ending.

Then the storm of the political troubles, and I scrambled to build my own ark of truth and reason (sanctified by Jesus talk of course), hoping to share the truth with anyone who would listen.

I had been so inordinately proud of myself for apparently finding the answer: while everyone around me devolved into poisonous, partisan shit-flinging, name-calling and backbiting, I was so proud of myself for crafting a solid, coherent worldview — we were all to blame, I pontificated, both sides are wrong, we should aim for the truth, we should see ourselves in the enemy. I told anyone who would listen, I told my kids, even while patting myself on the back for being such a goddamn modern sage, even as my people, my world, tore itself to bloody shreds all around me.

But we just sickened further. No amount of my steadfast smugness did anything as everything went from bad to worse: partisan politics tore at my classmates, on social media ever more suspect disappearances, on the news ever more discoveries of weapon caches and bombs, more shit-flinging and conspiracies, more roadblocks, more government stonewalling, more murderous bitterness festering like a cancer. All I had was this smugness that I had found the right answers, just you wait and see.

I thought I’d acted right even as the world had been ending.

Then came the calm. A December lull, maybe it was the democratic landslide in the elections, maybe it was a little bit of sanity creeping back into our shattered people, maybe just fatigue.

Then the rain again, at first the pitter patter, hushed whispers of some mystery disease; then the downpour of a looming international health crisis.

Then the flood, a faceless microbial enemy that none of us saw coming. And all the fight left me. It was one thing to stand fast with the sword of truth and reason against partisan politics, but to have weathered that fight seemingly with head held high, only to face some new disease, and the panic and breakdown it threatened — my will fled. I was even laid low by my own bad health, and though thankfully it turned out to be nothing more than a bad bout of bronchitis, those long nights of lying in bed, my pulse pounding, coughing up a rainbow range of vile fluids, being nothing more than a passive patient while my retired, masked parents ventured out everyday to buy groceries, coming home with uneasy smiles under their masks — all the ridiculousness of my smug confidence then hit me like a sledgehammer.

Apparently all I could do while my world was ending was lie in bed and cough.

We all like to think we’re Noah in the storm. But most of the time we aren’t. Sage, moron, active, passive, moderate, radical, blue, yellow, green, red, white — we’re all just caught in the storm.

Noah wasn’t the guy with the answers. Noah wasn’t the guy with the robust worldview, he wasn’t the sage, he wasn’t the moderate. Noah was simply the guy God had told to build the bigass boat. Noah was simply the guy who took God seriously enough to do it.

One of my kids asked me one time, What should we do when war comes?

I’d forgotten what I’d told her. But my answer apparently had struck her enough that she remembered. Remember what you told me? she asked. And apparently I’d said: love the people around you, try to stay alive, try not to do anything you’d regret if you survive the war.

There’s a miasma of helplessness and despair in Hong Kong now, even as choking disease flies in at the heels of his comrade, fratricidal civil strife. Flood’s here. Desperation as people scramble for masks, scream for border closures, throw down their tools to bring the stone-faced government to heel.

No pearls of wisdom now. I don’t know, don’t remember what to say or do. What robust worldview can fight microbes and despair? What have I been doing as my world has crumbled? Lie in bed and cough? What can we do now? Panic? Scramble? Build our own arks?

Or maybe as once upon a time I’d told a wide-eyed kid: love the people around you, stay safe, stay alive, don’t do anything you’d later regret. And pray God the flood ends soon.

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