Someone else’s words

Someone else’s words

Sometimes I feel drowned in a deluge of words. It feels like they’re all rushing toward me, nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, all pointed edges and sharp dots.

There is so much going on in this world, so much of it horrifyingly bad, seemingly unprecedently bad, and although pictures arguably tell stories better, most of the time, cliché notwithstanding, they need words to give those stories context and meaning. That means that we must constantly read more and more and more about the nightmares. (It also means that we have to keep the perspective that tells us that we are not experiencing these nightmares personally. As awful as it is to read about them, it is infinitely worse to live through them. Or not to live through them.)

A good friend told me that he loves taking cabs in Israel and listening to the drivers’ insights. One recently told him that the life of the Jewish people is like a seesaw. Sometimes it’s up — the way it’s been since the end of World War II until now — sometimes it’s down — the direction in which we seem to be heading — but the fulcrum always keeps it in place.

So I started thinking about Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities.” The French Revolution doubtless was a terrible time to live — all those heads falling into the baskets in front of all those knitting women, an image that Dickens created — but by now it seems pretty far down on the list of historical horrors.

And I thought about the way Dickens opened that book, with the underpunctuated rush of words and ideas and juxapositions, and how accurately it describes our world right now, as the medieval horror of Hamas contrasts with the undeniable miracles of the tiny, powerful computers in our pockets, that allow us to Facetime around the world and find just about any fact in a fraction of a second and diagnose medical conditions and find long-lost distant cousins and do any number of apparent wonders.

Here is Mr. Dickens:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

So far like the present period indeed.

Let us hope, even if against hope, that this present period ends soon.


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