I am sitting at home, socially isolated like many Americans and people throughout the world, reading a thriller suspense novel, titled The Holdout by Graham Moore. The opportunity to do this almost feels luxurious. Life is cluttered with so many things to do that the chance to read a book for mere pleasure almost feels too good to be true. Before the coronavirus turned the world upside down, I had read Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot, my local book club’s choice of the month.
Those two fictional works differ, most conspicuously, by the length of the sentences of each book. The sentences in Eliot’s wonderful book were so long that every once in a while, I would have to reread it so as to not miss the underlying point. That is to say I had to focus and concentrate. Sentences in Moore’s book are short, concise and to the point allowing me to put my mind in neutral as I glide through what has been a page turner. As I read, my body quivers with an eerie sensation upon peering outside from my home and seeing the intense stillness surrounding me. The reality and the fiction appear so entangled that we are having difficulty disengaging from our beliefs that are rooted in our anxieties.
Fortunately, rather than having to go to my office, the internet has provided me with more available time than I normally would have by allowing me to see clients online. The idea of unlimited time sparks a memory from long ago when I was in my early teens. It is Friday evening, 1958, and I am visiting a friend when these stars appear on the tele screen and a very myopic man with whiskey shot lenses is pondering his difficult life with a wife that won’t let him enjoy the reading he loves and a demeaning boss at the bank where he works. After Rod Serling comes on, my friend, Marc, who is the youngest of 12 children, tells me that this is a new show. Because all of his siblings were older, he always seemed to know more about what was cool and groovy than the rest of us. As soon as the program starts, neither Marc nor I say a word. We sit entranced.
Burgess Meredith plays Henry Dimis a hen-pecked bank clerk who, following his boss’s demand, goes inside the vault to deposit money and is suddenly jarred by a sonic boom. Rubble and debris cover him from a nuclear explosion in which he is the sole survivor on earth. He does not know what or where to go and contemplates suicide until he discovers piles and piles of books, all of which are intact, in front of the dismantled library. His mundane life that necessitated his carrying out the chores and duties that his wife and boss commanded of him did not allow him the time to read the classics that he has so wanted to peruse all his life. As he joyously looks at these treasures, he is so happy that his glasses slip off from his face and in looking to retrieve them he steps on them cracking the lenses in several pieces. As if an arrow had pierced his heart, Henry, face torn, looks up and says: ‘That’s not fair, not fair at all. I had time at last.’ My friend and I nod with the silent understanding that we have seen something very rarely captured on a TV program.
The Twilight Zone episodes had a universal appeal inasmuch as they spoke to many of the characteristics–that make us humans–coming up against that vast unknown space. Who would have guessed that the whole world is experiencing something that no one really could have predicted only a few months ago? Surreal but very much real. It was always the pain and emotions that humans experienced throughout history that separated us from the immortal gods who never could have such sensations as pain or joy. We are in this together but the manner in which we use the time it affords us, though it may be unbearable to some, will make the difference in the way each and every one of us come out of it when it ends. Though it may feel that way, this is not the apocalypse. Although some of us may not make it to the finish line, the great majority of us will survive and, if we all work together, it will take many fewer lives than if we forget what it means to be human. In the meantime, at last there is time enough for me to go to my bookshelf, wipe off some of the dust that has accumulated on it and choose some books that I can enjoy.