We live in an “age of anxiety”.
The term is not new. It was coined by the English writer and poet, W. H. Auden, and was the title of his six-part poem that won the 1948 Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Auden referred to the time period of the mid-twentieth century.
Today that anxiety is back at peak levels. Who isn’t aware of an approaching cataclysm be it environmental, political, economic, technological, pathological, military, or social? It’s an anxious time, but that does not mean the world will end.
Ours and Auden’s were not the first of such ages.
Living during the second half of the second century AD, who knew that the ascension of Marcus Aurelius to the Emperor’s throne marked the zenith of Pax Romana? The heavens didn’t open up. No gong sounded. Life simply moved on.
What followed was barbarian invasion, plague, warfare and a general dissolution, yet the anxiety from the anticipation of that decline had been keenly felt by many observers for over two hundred years before. Nor did the anxious know that the subsequent decline would take many hundreds of years to run its course*.
How about the “age of anxiety” in Assyria? Some three thousand years before Marcus Aurelius, an unknown author wrote on a clay tablet:
“Our earth is degenerate in these latter days; bribery and corruption are common; children no longer obey their parents; every man wants to write a book, and the end of the world is evidently approaching.”
And long before that, there was the song of an ancient ancestor now lost and unknown to us:
“If the lava from those volcanoes don’t get us, we’ll likely be eaten anyway.”
And so it is with all of history. Time marches day by day with little fanfare. Historians note the beginning and the end of ages, epochs, periods, and eras. Reality has no such demarcations, only the smooth movement of one moment into another.
It looks like rain, but just because it does, that doesn’t mean it will shower any time soon.
Should we hide in a hole until it does? I think not. Grab an umbrella if you must, but keep putting one foot in front of the other, and know in your mind and heart that the Ages of Anxiety have been many, and most have lasted longer than any single human lifetime. They are the weather patterns of history. Sometimes it storms. Sometimes the sun is out.
To borrow from Kurt Vonnegut, Jr:
“And so it goes”.
* The western empire with Rome at its center ended in 476 CE when Odoacer deposed Romulus Augustulus, but the seat of power had already moved East to Byzantium, later Constantinople, before it succumbed to the Ottomans in 1453, and the Roman Empire ceased altogether.