Let’s have a suffer-off

Who has it worst? Spoiler: I intend to conclude that I do.

For starters let’s exclude from this half-winking, half-sincere tournament anyone who has the damn virus or who has a cohabitating loved one who does. They have it worst, at the moment, beyond dispute. Let us all hope with great specificity and focus for treatments that reduce Covid-19 severity and/or shorten duration of infection. These are very reasonable hopes and, like a lot of you, I read some promising things just today.

Let’s then exclude out of respect people who have lost income and have no parachute or fat reserves to speak of, people who, I am afraid,  probably constitute a majority; people who are dealing with wolves at the door—angry wolves dealing with their own losses, which more often than not are losses in their net rate of gain. Different thing, wolves, different class of loss. Shhhhh.


Let’s generally exclude the rich—lupine, raptor, scavenger, and single cell parasite–and especially those who are presently getting richer.

So we have now limited our pool to people who are not sick or dealing acutely with the sickness, and to people who are not, as we speak, hungry or homeless or in immediate risk of either. And to people who are not rich.

I feel for the young. I feel for high school seniors and college freshmen, watching this metaphorical bridge to real life that has always “been there” vanish into mist, with the freshmen on it and the seniors standing at the gate, tokens in hand. No clarity in the offing. Time to reconceptualize everything, but no one can say how, except to note that it will involve a lot of computers and mobile devices.

Ultimately, I feel least sorry for the young, but only because I trust them, their world-making capacity, their adaptability, and what is going to rise in them. They were already quite used to grim prophecy. They are in fact grim prophecy’s very own generation, whether regarding the infrastructural rot of late stage capitalism, the erosion of the professions and opportunity, the widening gap, the unsustainable costs of education and independence; or regarding the planet and all the geopolitical ramifications of the dumpster fire of climate change.

The healthy young already knew what they were getting into. Doom is their DNA. I trust them to run headlong into the future’s embrace and make it their own. I don’t feel so bad for them. It’s their hero time, and Lord knows they were certainly raised on hero myths…

Then, I think of my 93 year old mother and her people, the few who are left. Oh my, the things they have seen! If you have dealt with this age group much, as I do daily, you know that acute, nameable fears account for a large percentage of the day and its CPU cycles, and now there’s a new one: very real, right there, doing amazing work on the ground, spelling almost certain doom should it knock and a horrific, miserable iteration of certain doom at that.

But I believe in the precipice and its wisdom. I believe these folks—the very real burden of chronic worry notwithstanding—are engaged in a profound process of letting go of attachment and investment, Buddhist in nature no matter what they call it, and headed toward the kind of aloof marvel that is only available to the rest of in fleeting moments. And when you or I say to ourselves, “feel aloof marvel NOW,” our neuerologies just laughs at us and say, “you feel aloof marvel when I tell you to, kid.”

Maybe I am sentimentalizing old age, but if I am, if precipice wisdom is a Hollywood lie, THEN WHAT IS THE GODDAMN POINT OF ANYTHING?

And thus I conclude I feel worst for me and mine. At fifty-something, what you lose in raw, fecund creative power, you gain back in discrimination and finally knowing your mind. You are gearing up for a last decade of fullness of life, the final prime, banking on your health. You have lost a step but you have new assets to play with as well.

You have put in 10,000 hours many times over and in multiple disciplines. There are things you do, and you may be surprised to learn that you are not getting worse at them. Using Brahms and Beethoven as my personal examples, you will not be doing much innovating in your next decade or breaking down walls, but in your established mode, in your métier (Beethoven’s late string quartets, Brahms’ late music for clarinet), you are absolutely capable of being the best “you” yet. Man, I was set on it!

I had a lot going a few months ago—new musical projects that I was excited about, a series of shows I was booking at the Beverly in Kingston that was picking up steam, a new business venture predicated on live music, a lot to write about as well. But, man, there is no way we are learning a whole new set of social conditions and rules. We require the stability of the world as we have known it and built it, our mode and our métier, to leverage the best of what is left in us. Alaska is for the goddamn young.


Read more installments of Village Voices by John Burdick.