I just finished reading Station Eleven, a post-apocalyptic novel by Emily St. John Mandel. I highly recommend it. It’s the one of two five-star ratings I’ve given on GoodReads after going a long stretch without being able to give more than a three-star. (The other recent five-star was Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld, more to come on that soon.)
Whenever I read a dystopian novel — and moreso when I read a well-researched, well-written one like St. John Mandel’s — I can’t help but examine my own life and my own “what ifs” in the face of some future life-altering catastrophe I somehow survive.
Lately, as my mind has been busy with the America vs. Israel conversation (a two-sided dialogue I engage with myself at least once a day exploring the pros and cons of leaving or staying in Israel), I considered the events of the novel. The Earth is ravaged by a pandemic, killing off 99% of the population. Those who are not sickened and killed by the flu are left figuring out how — and more existentially, why — to survive. Some survivors are stranded in an airport far from home. They understand quickly they will never return. And this, today, is the question that occupied my mind:
What if I knew I would never see America again? Would never see my parents? My brothers? Any of my friends who live there?
Could I be happy, or satisfied at least, living in Israel, remaining here on Hannaton?
What if it weren’t the apocalypse (meaning: what if I abandoned the upset of knowing my loved ones were ill or gone), but an event that meant the end of international travel?
Could there be such an event? After which my parents were still alive, but inaccessible? Following which we in Israel still lived a somewhat normal life, but simply could not fly anymore? Or buy passage on a ship, even?
No. All I can imagine is disaster. There is no in-between in my imagination. There is no mild cataclysm. Either things are as they are now or the worst-case scenario.
* * *
However, if I were to play fiction writer, for a moment, I might say, “Hold on now. Let’s consider Donald Trump.”
Donald Trump as American president is possibly the in-between disaster I can’t imagine; the wonky future in which the world still runs on electricity and internet and Dunkin Donuts, but international travel is forbidden. Let’s say, for instance, a Trump presidency leads to a law being passed in which American immigration is on hiatus, but citizens living abroad have a brief window to return. Once they do return, however, they are required to remain on American soil for the next four years. America, in this fictional scenario, is testing out a new policy for the duration of Trump’s term. It’s called something like “No American Left Behind.”
“The In-Or-Out” law, the talking heads dub it.
Would I leave then?
Would we pack up our belongings and run back home?
What if there was no time for belongings? Only time for the five of us with one-way tickets and that which we could fill in our suitcases?
Would that be a home we would want to live in anyway?
What’s scarier? I considered. America as a gated-community? Or the idea of being stuck in Israel for an indefinite amount of time with no certainty of ever seeing my family again?
What kind of decisions, I asked myself, do we make in the face of black-and-white? Of choose this or that?
And what kind do we make in the face of seeming interminable uncertainty?
* * *
To be honest, I’m not paying too much attention to the U.S. presidential election, but I noticed on Facebook today someone saying they planned to vote Republican in the primary — vote for Rubio — as a way of derailing Trump’s run. But what if that was the plan all along? Democrats, for all their intellectualism, can be pretty stupid. Conservatives are wiley. Strategic. Cool cats. Liberals, with all their free love tend to act irrationally, emotion-based, don’t think enough before jumping in heart first.
Then, on Twitter later in the morning, someone wrote they thought the media hype equating Trump with Hitler was an exaggeration. I don’t quite align myself politically with this person, so I can’t put my faith in his ease. But as a reader of post-apocalyptic fiction I can say with certainty that there is always the guy on Twitter who thinks it’s not as bad as everyone says it is. This is classic disaster narrative. Bad guy/bad storm/bad killer disease. Makes no difference. The experts keep it quiet at first, but then feel compelled to reveal the danger to the masses as they realize their calculations were too understated. Upon learning of the now likely unavoidable danger, half the masses freak out, and the other half cry hysteria. Usually, there’s the goofy teenager who makes fun of the hurricane/flood/asteroid (he’s the first to go), and often, the old guy saying in his old guy voice “I never thought I’d see the day.”
No matter what, though, there’s always the guy who — just before the shit hits the fan — says most assuredly, “It can’t be as bad as people are making it out to be.” This is the point at which you should start storing water and supplies.
I haven’t started shopping, though. In fact, my storage room/bunker is as empty as it’s been since we’ve lived here. And I wonder why. I wonder if it’s acceptance or if it’s resignation.
And does it matter? Am I saner if I am accepting or saner if I am resigned?
Acceptance: Yes, this is the world we live in.
Resignation: Yes, there will be disaster.
Acceptance: There is no certainty.
Resignation: Why bother? You will likely not survive the apocalypse, anyhow.
I don’t know which it is. What I do know is that reading Station Eleven has me grateful for my flushing toilets, and for my Google search, and especially for my at-home, self-grinding espresso machine. It had me abandon for a few hours my ongoing, inner turmoil over where to live now or next; which direction to choose.
Neither decision, I suppose, would be the end of the world.