“Em? That’s not a word!” At eight years old, I felt cheated, incensed. My uncle often tried to beat me at scrabble. “It is a word,” he remonstrated. “Look in the dictionary.” And indeed, upon flipping through many familiar pages, I realized I was mistaken.
In the relatively short dash between then and now, so very much has transpired. That singular line between dates, like 448-338 b.c.; 356-326 b.c; 110-44 b.c.; 33-61 a.d.; 539-612; 1122-1204; 1343-1400; 1412-1431; 1564-1616; 1756-1791; 1809-1865; 1819-1901; 1879-1955; 1892-1951; and 1918-2013 certainly represents a chronological series. Yet these dates are specifically significant, indeed, and perhaps even recognizable; but it is that all too brief em dash betwixt the dates that really signifies. Therein lies the life. Therein lies the influence of a given person on others, from birth to death. And suspended as that short-stroke em-dash is between the book-ends of any given dates, it is there that the very chapters of all history get written.
Social distancing is creating a stressful acclimatization to a new world order. Indeed, we adjust to being alone, and we preoccupy ourselves with the house-chores of isolation and free time. Indeed, we phone and email and Skype and Facebook, etc., but the physical reality of hugs and handshakes are very much a current aversion. We are to stand six feet apart, if we do not want to be buried six feet under. And evidently, too many lives have been foreshortened by a bug, a disease, a contagion, that horridly knows no international boundaries. Our globe is under attack, or at least, we human beings are the ones being attacked at this dastardly time on our world.
“A debacle! It is my favourite word of the month,” writes 97-year-old M’Lady Nancy Sinclair. In her long lifetime she’s seen the world wars, and plenty more. She’s endured and persevered within the storms of inordinate odds. At now, just about to turn 98 on April 01, she is supposed to allow no one into her cottage on The Swan, near Perth, in Australia. Her adult daughters, her friends, her neighbours, how will they be able to celebrate M’Lady’s birthday? That em dash of her life is indeed experiencing an awful shrinkage in the debacle of this 2020 year. To be so very alone is difficult for anyone, let alone those who care to be generous with their love toward and care for others. It is in direct contact with others that most of us share our very vitality.
A debacle is defined as ‘a sudden and ignominious failure’. Therein lies the rub. Are we, by staying chiefly in a virtual reality for the next long while, able to control the contagion, to contain it, and even, like polio, or the bubonic plague, or malaria, or aids, to stem the spread and so to keep things in check that we no longer need to be so fearful of each other? Certainly, all personnel involved in essential services, from our health, food, and maintenance workers, deserve a hero’s accolades. Their bravery to keep us all as cared for as possible is deeply profound.
And as for that all too brief em dash in the lives of those who once lived, and all those not as yet book-ended by a final date, we can but love day to day, appreciating all that is good and beautiful and marvelous and wonderful within our lives. The em dash of Plato, and Alexander, and even Caesar, and Queen Boudecia, and Bertha of Kent, and Chaucer, and Shakespeare, and Joan of Arc, and President Lincoln, and Einstein, and Sir Arthur Street, and Mandela too, contains their experience of love and appreciation of life. Then too, they also indeed needed to overcome the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. So too, one fears, for each and all of us.
And as for the present debacle, darn it, we need, indeed, keep apart, and keep clean. Let us not play scrabble with the rules. After all, life for any of us can be too short. And lest we do not take precaution, unlike the inevitable and unavoidable reality of our own personal em dash; for some of us, we fear, it might become the even shorter ‘en’ dash. (Yes, the same, but shorter still.) We need think of our own impact on others. So stay safe. Be well. Move about with care. Please.