Though a fictional character, Harold employed a disciplined and regimented routine in how to get through life. He was the sort of fellow who would daily brush his teeth with an invariable number of strokes back and forth and up and down, would tie his tie only one particular way, and would run, every day, to the bus stop at a predetermined pace so as to arrive just in time to catch it.
As a senior auditor for the IRS, Harold would complete 7.134 tax files daily. This deliberate management of life went on succinctly for, we are told, nine very consecutive years. Even his lunch and coffee breaks at work were precisely timed by his fancy wristwatch.
He lived a life of relative isolation, going to bed alone at exactly 11:13 p.m. His work desk was even located at the end of a long row of sterile office cubicles.
Most would consider his existence almost surreal, but in striking fashion it became even more so when his previously reliable wristwatch called it quits on an otherwise typical Wednesday. At that moment, everything changed for Harold.
Without explanation, there began the sudden arrival of an audible voice going off in his head. So discernable was this voice, some woman — who was a novelist in fact — he found himself looking around to see who was addressing him. This fluent and fashionable vocalization then starts to provide a narration of Harold’s life, accurately and with an eloquent vocabulary.
A defining moment occurred when the dreamlike voice communicated in Harold’s head, “Little did he know that this simple, seemingly innocuous event would ultimately lead to his death.”
Profoundly troubled, in short order, he found himself in the Human Resources office being “therapeutically diagnosed” as “wibbly-wobbly,” having caught a little “cubicle fever.” Further assessment by a psychiatrist indicated the voice was actually schizophrenia.
Now, I’m no Harold Crick, the protagonist in the aforementioned comical movie, “Stranger Than Fiction,” and neither are you.
Still, the profoundly troubling circumstances encompassing all of us by way of the coronavirus, have formed somewhat of a narration to our current state. There is nothing surreal about it! These intrusive realities are alarming, paralyzing and even quite fear-inducing. Unfortunately, it’s becoming less unimaginable every day.
Consider how we would all prefer one singular voice uniquely and perceptively instructing and narrating our lives, and now we are forced to disseminate a barrage of hundreds of them vying for our attention. The alterations of our patterned and scheduled lives may not have happened as suddenly as a watch stopping, but in short order we have been left wondering in the chaos which end is up.
Wibbly-wobbly aptly describes how I am, at least, feeling while trying to navigate this crisis. I liken it to standing up in a canoe without a paddle, heading downstream and hoping no raging waterfall is lurking around the bend somewhere.
There might be even some slight personality disorders developing among us as we erratically react and respond to news bulletins, memorandums, mandates of extended sheltering in place, closures and other prohibitions.
We all know more about COVID-19, this unsettling global pandemic, than we care to know, yet we still count ourselves among a populous characterized by “little did we know!” While fewer and fewer of us are even being allowed to work in a cubicle, if we ever did in the first place, we are very “in touch” with the “fever” that has arrived given how cooped up we’ve become in our designated cabins.
Whatever “treadmills” of monotony we’ve placed ourselves upon up to this point, have ground to a clunking halt. What’s more, we may have felt the need to toss it into the dumpster only for it to be replaced with a newfangled contraption. One we are having trouble assembling, let alone operate.
Functioning previously in a fairly predictable manner, these days, even with spring in the air, many of us are remanded to entertaining via 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzles and ancient board games pulled off dusty shelves in musty closets.
And finally, though we are all doing our part to “avoid this like the plague,” we are all too frequently being reminded of the lethality of this “angel of death.”
In all too many ways, our collective lives are being somewhat scripted, though perhaps not to Harold’s extent.
He received wise counsel one day from a local college professor emeritus of literature attempting to unravel his peculiar cranial craziness. Initially trying to help Harold discern whether his story was a tragedy or a comedy, he simply concluded, “Live your life and make it one you always wanted.”
Listen, finally, to the honesty of Harold’s story, and perhaps ours these days, knowing that sometimes “we lose ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopelessness and tragedy.”
Love your neighbor, wash your hands, keep your distance, pray for all, and even believe some change is for the better. Let ours be a true story!
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org