Lessons of 2016
Yes, I know the year still has a week and change to drop another bomb or three (metaphorical only, please) on us, but I doubt the lessons this writer has learned from it are going to change that much.
The first and most obvious is that when it comes to life, you can’t win, you can’t break even, and the only way out is in a box. The steady stream of boxes containing beloved figures this year (along with a few bastards) made that point rather forcefully.
You can – and bloody well should – do your best to make your part in things as good as you can, and to improve the general state of affairs for everyone else in some way. I personally suspect that whatever measure the ultimate judge of our lives chooses will include the question of whether we tried to help those who could not help themselves (those who refuse to help themselves are another matter and an argument I don’t want to have right now), whether we tried to choose the paths that did the least harm to the fewest people while aiming for the greatest good to the greatest number of people.
It’s a fuzzy sort of thing to be looking at, but let’s face it, I’m a writer. I have cats. Fuzzy is inevitable, and usually purrs.
Seriously, if there isn’t a place in whatever afterlife might exist for those of us who entertain people and make them a little happier for a while, it’s not the kind of afterlife I want to be part of. The person who’s at the bottom of the pit and ready to give up can be convinced to hold on just a little longer by a book or something that entertains them and gives them reason to hope. It doesn’t matter if what does this is the latest literary masterpiece of angst or a piece of shameless pulp fiction: if it does that job, it’s helped to save that person’s life.
Another lesson that got hammered in is that life does not have to make sense. If it had to make sense, things would be very different. There are times when I’m so pissed off about the way things happen because if I wrote a fraction of that into a book I’d be laughed out of the room. Just one of the WTF events of 2016 would be enough to have people giving me the hairy eyeball. I mean, in what sane universe would anyone dare to openly assassinate a Russian ambassador? That’s asking to have yourself and everyone and everything you care about turned into glowing dust.
Okay, they might go easy on the glowing, what with the general attitude to nuclear weaponry and the fact that most of the world’s stock is kind of elderly, but the Russians have a history of taking this kind of thing seriously. In the form of “do not pass Go, go directly to gulag” seriously if you’re lucky (for meanings of lucky that do not include the biggest mercy of a quick death you weren’t expecting).
Now, the conspiracy-minded (or authorial) sorts could easily turn this into an act intended to spark a war between Russia and Turkey (“that thing in Syria? That’s not a war. This is a war.” followed by four and twenty MiG jets, a pocketful of ICBMs and a whole lot of mess kind of war that would leave Turkey thinking of Afghanistan as the pinnacle of civilization). It would make a fun sort of thriller, now that life has demonstrated that yes, people can be dumb enough to do that and think it will make their point.
But on the whole, this is on the same level of “were you thinking?” as invading Russia in winter.
There is a slight whiff of hope, thought, which comes from these unlikely and bizarre events: if anything can happen, there is a possibility that it will happen, and as all Pratchett fans know, million to one chances crop up nine times out of ten. It’s very important that the probability be exactly a million to one, though. Anything else obeys the normal laws of physics and statistics. Only at precisely a million to one will the laws of narrativium kick in, and the biggest lesson of 2016 is that narrativium actually can defy physics, mathematics, gravity, and reality.
So maybe, just maybe, if enough of us believe fervently enough that life will make sense, it could actually happen.