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Mourning the Beforetimes
At Osheaga Music Festival, 2015, in Montreal. Tori and I and three of our best friends huddled together in a crowd of hundreds, passing a strong drink around the circle and dancing with the mass of people around us. No words exchanged, just a shared, wordless recognition that this is one of those moments in life that is rare and fleeting. It is a moment of clarity, or pure joy and love, the kind we spend our lives pursuing, hanging our hopes on.
The next time, and every time, I hear the song that was playing at that moment, nostalgia comes over me in a way I almost cannot stand. Before the pandemic, the longing for the beauty of that moment was laced with a kind of hope. Hope that it can and will happen again, and that the chaos of being in a crowd with overwhelmingly loud music, being bumped and jostled will, paradoxically, lead me to a state of utter peace.
Now, I don’t know when they’ll ever happen again. If. I don’t know how it might be possible to cram ourselves together with the same blissful ignorance to the microbial maelstrom we unleash on each other. It’s an ache the size of an unknown loss, because we’ll certainly have more gatherings, live music and dancing than we do now. But not knowing what it will look like, when it will happen, how it will feel and who will be there to celebrate whatever’s worth celebrating — how do you look forward to that without a sense of dread at the margin, at whatever we will have lost by the time that moment takes shape, at the nagging feeling that whatever the “new normal” looks like, its colors will feel faded and its edges less crisp than the old one. Vivid, brilliant moments duller and dimmer. How can we ever stop comparing to how it used to be?
I never understood the idea of “the humanities” — arts, music, writing, etc., all filed right after “humane society” in the encyclopedia? But when pandemic forces us into these sterile, distanced lives and we stop going to concerts and sharing drinks with friends and walking past new graffiti and street performers and getting into situations that entirely overwhelm the senses with, well, humanity, it makes perfect sense. Humanities are the things that make us feel most, whether that feeling is an elbow to the ribs in a mosh pit (something I never thought I’d miss so much), the silent sadness of a poem or the buzz of anticipation in the line for a midnight movie release.
Those examples might survive, but will undoubtedly be forever changed by what’s happening right now, and there’s no back button. There’s no “Control+Z” for those of us who want those moments back, and the process of reckoning with that fact can foster a sense of loss and hopelessness deeper and more whole than any individual’s personal loss could ever feel.
There is an equal amount of hope to be felt, too. A vaccine will come and we will branch back out, go back to the movies and to concerts, and art show openings and book signings and events we haven’t imagined yet. We, collectively, will learn and grow and seek and find those things that make us feel, and those memories of before will look different, but perhaps not better. Everything, from this moment we’re in — after before but before after — looks better. That might be the most glum possible way to say “keep on holding on, because we’re going to get out of this,” but we are.
And when we do, you’ll find me in the mosh pit.
(But not yet. Seriously, people, wear a mask. It makes a difference.)