The Age to Come

by Doria Kahn

 
  Graphics by Diana Fujii

Graphics by Diana Fujii

2017 was the year my father got his Senior Metrocard. This was a crazy transition for a youngest child to witness. For my older siblings, this change was to be expected. Both college grads, most of their friends’ parents in their sixties. For me, a recent high school grad living abroad, I recognized a shift in my adolescence. While I was beginning my own new adventures, my parents would soon be entering a new age, literally and figuratively. These types of transitions, while expected, were also overwhelming. Suddenly, I was presented with a number of new unknowns: while I’d be living overseas and then starting college, my parents would have a different status as empty-nesters. Despite the transition being natural, these types of changes raised more questions than answers.

 

2017 has been a year of new beginnings. No longer living in a K-12 framework, I’ve been gearing up to start planning my future. With each month, I can point to images of disappointment, destruction, and heartbreak that swarmed my screen and depressed me to my core. The existential questions flooded my brain: what are and should be my priorities? To what extent can I be a selfish teenager in a world that presumes that everyone else only looks out for their own self-interest, too? My parents have often confessed how sorry they feel for me. Their carefree youth begged them to be selfish. They were rebellious! They were causing a stir as countercultural hippies burning stuff at music festivals and having fun doing it. Meanwhile, my friends and I wear baggy pants and chokers and think we’re unique for it. Could their youth really have been more transformative than ours? Do we have it harder or easier as millennials?

 

The transition from December 31st to January 1st has always been an artificial one—plenty of other cultures and countries commemorate a new year on different days. The start of each year is never totally seamless, but this year even more than last, I struggled to reconcile moving from one year of worldwide struggle to yet another, with no reprieve. From earth-shattering terror attacks, and natural disasters, police shootings, post-election turmoil, and continued war and horror in Syria, this past year posed a lot of questions about what it means to be a citizen of our fractured yet interconnected world.

 

I imagine a place where there’s some sort of way to vote on the world’s worst tragedies. Perhaps it would be a twisted, dark comedy. We’d dress up like we were at the Oscars, rate the events with comically large cards numbered 1-10, and see how many line up per decade. Each decade would have a Vanna White-like figure to tally up the votes.

 

Or we could take a more serious note. All watershed moments in history were impactful to the inhabitants of the world at that time. Take 1918: a war that was supposed to “end all wars” ended up killing almost forty million people—not to mention the influenza outbreak that killed almost three-five percent of the world’s population. 1963 was not only the year that JFK was assassinated but also a year of debilitating racism and hatred as demonstrated in events such as the 16th Street Church bombing in Alabama and the murder of Medgar Evers, the head of the NAACP.

 

Fast forward to today where we barely have time to consider the nightmare of last night before we are met with another calamity the next morning with a refresh of our news feeds. In the digital era, we know the damage in real-time—or at least we think we do. The world has grown into a dystopian melodrama we can no longer recognize. Instead of reading 1984 as fiction, we’re turning to it as a way to address our current socio political landscape. At the time of its 2008 release, we read The Hunger Games, spellbound, and wondered “Is it that far behind?” But here we are almost 70 years later, using Orwell as a roadmap to confront issues of surveillance, independence of thought, and attacks on freedom.

 

Furthermore, in The United States of America, for example, we have a former reality star as president, interview trending, far-removed celebrities for insight, get our news from Late Night television. Netflix’s Black Mirror scares us not just because each episode taps into our fears, but because some of the plot lines surrounding moral complications in technology, political propaganda, and fear-mongering are reflected in today’s world. This isn’t the fictitious, grainy, black and white Twilight Zone of yesteryear.

 

All the while, we scroll through endless inputs of negativity, waiting for our “Like” to be a signature to a magical contract. This form of technology helps bring people together but most strikingly creates a sort of apathy. If I simply share this link to an unfortunate news event and react with a Facebook “Sad,” maybe I’m exempt from further action.

So, do we accept our inadequacy of inaction? Or, do we yell into the endless void for eternity? Robert Frost’s 1920 poem, “Fire and Ice” may drive this question even farther, but it also gives me solace in troubling times.

“Fire and Ice”

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire   

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate    

To know that for destruction ice  

Is also great      

And would suffice.

Already a popular poem, it gained even more popularity after the 2016 election. The multifaceted nature of the poem exemplifies the harmful nature of extremes, the fire and the ice that exist in the natural world. There is a power in heated passion, and cold-heartedness. In periods of destruction, we often feel powerless; the fire and the ice are dangers that are difficult to avoid. The uncertainty in the multitude of issues and conflicts that could end our world seemingly grow.

There is something, however, oddly assuring about this poem. The self-knowledge Frost seems to have is both humanizing and astonishing. Frost is recognizing the power of both opposing forces while acknowledging that we don’t know for certain whether fire or ice is deadlier. If in the bidding, award-style tragedy contest I described earlier, we were able to articulate and isolate the issues and dangers in all corners of the world and find answers in previous inactivity then maybe we could come together in action to do this—but in a non sci-fi nightmare-inducing way.

New Year’s is nothing new. The research next December may very well show that our resolutions still won’t work. But if history and the generations before us have shown us anything, it’s that we can make gains across boundaries and, at the very least, begin to change ourselves: listen to each other, support the needy, and fight the good fight in the midst of the fire and ice. And if you gotta post that gym selfie as motivation, do your thing.

Let’s trade in the tacky glasses (or, don’t; they have their charm) and make a toast to love, strength, and a better tomorrow.