The pandemic’s purpose in this brave new year

Sam Douds, Contributing Writer

As we enter into 2022 — the third year of the pandemic — it feels proper to do some reflecting. Since 2020, we have all been trying to find ways to manage the consequences of a global pandemic. We have lost time and experiences, and tragically millions of lives. But we have also found new sources of inspiration. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people found solace in books. I turned to “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley.

The novel examines a fictional, hyper-advanced society that has no problems. However, their lack of issues comes in exchange for some critical portions of the human condition. With the exception of one boy who grew up in a world more similar to our own, the people live without love and passion, subsisting on an excess of simple pleasures. The boy yearns for profound conversations and Shakespearean intimacy, he is dismayed by the civilization’s lack of interpersonal, artistic and philosophical depth; moreover, he criticizes the preeminent leader of the humanistically-deprived community. The leader’s response implies that living a life of purpose, one that includes passion, requires a degree of loss, peril and sacrifice.

This sentiment made my mind itch with something between astonishment and curiosity. I could not help but search the real world for evidence.

It quickly became apparent that history’s greatest champions are born out of tough situations. We remember the people who defied the odds, rose above their station and succeeded despite their circumstances. We forget those who sat idly by during times of great comfort. Despite the hardships we have endured, we cannot think of our struggles with the pandemic as exceptional. In the words of author C.S. Lewis, we cannot “begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation.” We are not the first generation to encounter calamity, and certainly not the first to overcome it. Ultimately, the adversity that we confront, however unpleasant, helps to give life meaning and purpose.

In considering our best days, we realize that the instances in which our hearts feel most full almost always occur in the time after we have conquered an obstacle. Hard-fought or unlikely achievements are more memorable and satisfying than everyday, easy wins. Graduations are the conclusion of long, demanding educational journeys; the birth of a child represents the end of the laborious pregnancy process and a biological miracle; weddings are a celebration of beating the odds, of finding someone in this vast world with whom you would like to spend a lifetime. Our most visceral and meaningful successes are almost always won despite the circumstances, not because of them. This means that on our more ordinary days, we do not have to be grateful for our tragedies, but we must acknowledge their value as catalysts of progress. Adversity is a prerequisite to beauty.

There is no doubt that this pandemic has been acutely painful. But it has also made us more empathetic, gritty and resourceful. We have all suffered at the hands of COVID-19 and yet this experience has made us more grateful for the details, for seeing one another face to face, for living on campus. We have not always been and will not always be happy during this global disaster, but the triumphs that it has made possible will be spectacular.

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