It’s not often you’d be quoting Kierkegaard around here, adding to the bleakness. But we are reminded these days of his maxim — that life can only be understood by looking backward, but it must be lived looking forward.
For a long time it felt as if life on this little island was exactly that. We were relentlessly looking forward, defining ourselves by progress — but all the time looking backward at the dark chapters. Berating ourselves for the sins of the past, trying to understand who we were before all the progress and moving forward saved us.
But right now it feels like we are living life backward and failing to understand any of it — despite having lived everything already at least once.
Like seriously? Really? Honestly?
Are we doing this again?
Dr Colm Henry, a ghost from the past, gave it to us right between the eyes on the One O’Clock News. This is a wave. And also, this is a virus for all seasons. As much as we are now used to not really having proper seasons in this country, it was still hard to hear.
In our epidemiology studies, seasonality was one of those things we used to cling to, as we looked backward at history and medicine for anything that might tell us what we wanted to hear — that this thing would, at some point, just go away.
At his most pessimistic, Dr Leo posited that Covid might be with us for some years, but that in summer, while it was in abeyance, we could live a bit. And at that time, in our desperation, we thought we’d take that. But it seems there ain’t no seasonality clause. Either for Covid or the cost of living, which Dr Leo now says could be with us for years too.
As to official confirmation that this was a wave... well, deep down we already knew that. It’s a bit like a recession being when your neighbour loses his job and a depression is when you lose yours. A ripple is when you hear Covid figures on the radio, a wave is when you suddenly feel it closing in on you, your family, your kids’ school in the dying days of term, the people at the party you were at last night.
And as we looked backward into Covid, we were refamiliarising ourselves with other ghosts we thought we had consigned to history.
We all knew Alan Ahearne was out there somewhere, advising the Taoiseach, but he hadn’t really been part of our lives since the crash. And suddenly he pops up last week, addressing Fianna Fáil’s parliamentary party meeting. All we need now is Morgan Kelly to make an appearance.
Meanwhile, the industrial strife that Bertie Ahern was said to have consigned to the past is back too, along with other retro notions — like an energy crisis and runaway inflation.
And of course we’re back to the era before we took air travel for granted too. It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time, not 30 years ago, when the Slattery’s bus which drove on to the ferry was the favoured method of getting to London for most of us. And for many, that journey was another dark chapter.
Which brings us back, not for the first time to Fitzgerald — F Scott, not Garret. “And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”