THESE ARE UNPRECEDENTED TIMES! shrieks every other Facebook post I stumble upon during my daily afternoon session of Trying to Escape The Void That Is My Mind: A Memoir I Haven’t Written Yet. Most of those who wield the phrase are characters from my hometown, typically of the insufferable variety. You know the type: front row seat at church yet judging other parishioners’ Sunday best, ignorant to the racist comments they mumble over green bean casserole during Thanksgiving dinner, the kinds of mothers that frown upon their youngest daughter dating someone who wouldn’t fit into the annual family photo, a blinding sea of white for this year’s Christmas card. There’s usually a caffeine-fueled rant accompanying the phrase, mixed with a dollop of ignorance– to taste, generally about how the need to wear face coverings during an ever-worsening pandemic is AN INFRINGEMENT ON MY CIVIL LIBERTIES! It’s easy to suppress the urge to punt these kinds of people in the stomach. All I have to do is remember the kinds of people they are and then arrive at the conclusion that it wouldn’t be worth the energy needed to swing my leg forcefully enough.
I hate that phrase almost as much as I hate the word UNPRECEDENTED used in this context. By definition, it means Something That Has Never Been Done or Seen Before. I call BS on that one, because everything newsworthy that has made headlines in recent months is only a sequel to a preexisting episode. A follow-up, the fulfillment of an inevitable To Be Continued. We didn’t invent every gruesome occurrence to unfold before our eyes this calendar year. We’re only living in what the history books left out, dear Conspiracy Mongers. The news broke centuries ago and you’re just now tuning in.
There’s nothing UNPRECEDENTED about the here and now. We’ve seen it all before through the eyes of different characters, most of them decades dead. Worldwide plagues, institutional racism, the silencing of a revolution– the same recycled themes loop over and over and only the ones brave enough to shake hands with the past remember. Some read history books without wondering what didn’t make the page, what was thrown into the sea of unimportance. How many names? How many deaths?
These are unprecedented times for them, maybe, or even for you.
But how many times will it take for you to find the precedent in unprecedented?
The certain in uncertain?
The real in the–blood, sweat, tears— surreal?