“Life’s but a walking shadow, …
… It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
-from Macbeth by William Shakespeare, spoken by Macbeth
We open this month’s ruminations with a snippet from Shakespeare’s “Tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech. This, along with “To be, or not to be” from Hamlet, are probably Shakespeare’s best-known soliloquies — and both are spoken by men who have arrived at the deepest points of despair in their lives.
The Macbeth quote is spoken in Act 5, Scene 5 of the five-act play. The play — and Macbeth’s life within it — are near the end. All his plotting and scheming has come to naught at this point in the story; the queen has gone mad and taken her own life, his life’s meaning has unraveled.
This dark passage has come to mind frequently for me lately, as we have all altered our lifestyles to prevent the spread of the coronavirus to both ourselves and others. But it’s not the “meaninglessness of life” theme in the quote that has struck a resonant tone with me, but rather the “told by an idiot” part. I feel obligated to apologize to the late William Shakespeare for chopping and parsing his wonderful text but doing so serves today’s small purpose.
I am guessing that you, like me, have listened to our leaders — in politics, medicine, business, and otherwise — through this time of … well, I don’t know what exactly to call it. Pandemic? Fear? Crisis? I will give up trying to find the best fitting words and defer to what Hunter S. Thompson might write if he were here. Maybe I can refer to the past two months (and the uncertain times to come) as the Time of Viral Fear & Loathing.
So, as I was saying — during this ToVF&L — haven’t you listened to some (many) of our leaders, turned to your spouse and said something to the nature of: “Idiots. We are a nation of idiots.” (If not, I salute you; you have a kinder heart than I. But we knew that one all along as well, didn’t we?)
It is clear that no one in our national or world leadership had given sufficient thought and effort ahead of time in preparation for a pandemic on the scale of the 1918 Spanish Flu. In the rush to pretend they did — or to try to mitigate the ramifications of the illness, perhaps — we’ve gotten words of foolishness instead. Maybe we thought we were immune to such widespread diseases. Is it because the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the Ebola outbreak in 2014–2016 were mostly confined to their origin points and we became cavalier in our thinking? I don’t know those answers and probably never will in this lifetime. For certain, once the immediacy of the coronavirus passes we will pursue answers to those questions in great detail.
And we will hear yet more pontifications by idiots large and small.
However, the questions are important. We were not prepared (obviously) and we must think rationally and ready ourselves, taking into consideration the impacts of our ever-growing world population density.
On a smaller scale, our own preparedness warrants questions as well. Through crisis, challenges, obstacles, disappointments, and lost nails from horseshoes, comes great opportunity for growth. We know this. It is never pleasant to be in the dark valley of difficulties — but the other side of the valley is often brighter than what has come before.
If a loved one of yours is gravely ill or has passed, I grieve with you. At the same time, I encourage you to evaluate where the Time of Viral Fear & Loathing has caused you stress and distress, and adjust your life going forward to mitigate these issues in the future.
Let us not be like Macbeth, whose life ends in despair as he watches his foul schemes unravel, or like the idiots telling a tale to rewrite the facts when life doesn’t go as planned.
Rather, let us be survivors who live according to our core values, to plan and adapt during the storms of life, and give strength to those around us when they might otherwise succumb to a tale of idiots.