August 2nd 2020
Today I was sat on the London Underground, looking around me at all the people wearing masks and face coverings, and thinking how fucking bonkers it is that we’re living through this. And then I turned back to my book, and realised that what we’re living through isn’t that bonkers at all.
The book I was reading was Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five in which he, eventually, describes the fire bombings of Dresden during the Second World War. The book is also about a time travelling optometrist who is abducted by aliens, but on the surface the primary story is about Dresden.
In one night in February 1945 135,000 people were killed as the Allies burned Dresden to the ground. The story’s bumbling protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, described the aftermath as like walking across the surface of the moon. It was nothing but dust and craters.
That? That’s pretty bonkers. A few months later, up to 200,000 people were killed in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That’s also bonkers.
At the start of the covid-incuded global lockdown, I had a mini panic attack because I kind of couldn’t believe that this was real life. It’s such a crazy and preposterous and impossible thing to happen and I couldn’t believe it was happening to us.
I felt like that a bit again today, sat on a train surrounded by people in masks and government-designed posters on the walls. That was an attempt at a callback to wartimes propoganda in order to make a weak comparison, just in case that didn’t land.
World War Two ended 75 years ago. My grandparents were alive then. That’s not even that long ago. Just over 100 years ago the Spanish Flu wiped out 3 million people of a much densely populated world.
This thing, covid, that seemed impossible to fathom or comprehend is actually not even that rare. Shit like this just happens to the human race. We’ve just been kind of blessed insofar as this is the first thing we’ve actually had to try and deal with for a few generations.
So, in a hugely twisted way, reading about Dresden made it easier to comprehend what’s going on right now. Because although we feel like we’re the most important generation/populous in history, we’re not, we’re just the current one. And those who came before us have already been through this kind of stuff.
And that is weirdly comforting. Because it’s not like this is a once-in-a-millenia that could never be repeated. Some weird shit just happens every 100 years or so, and given that the average age of a human is growing ever closer to 100 years old, there’s a pretty decent chance that you’ll live through some bullshit like this at some point.
Until tomorrow, this is our bullshit.