There goes the month of January in 2023. I must not press a panic button because I have not done the writing and reading that I want to do. In the middle of last week, I woke up in the wee hours of the morning thinking that it was the end of the week only to feel relieved that it was only the middle of the week. I love Saturdays. This is the day I usually indulge myself in reading and grabbing a coffee in the course of running a couple of errands after my weekly gym session. Every morning I make an espresso before heading out for the day. On a work day I usually grab a second coffee sometime after lunch. I enjoy having a coffee in a café because you get to read a little and watch people, some are locals some are tourists. There are cruises that stop by the pier for a day so you see tourists walking around town. One Saturday after my weekly gym session , I saw that there were groups of young people in various cosplay outfits and wearing blue and pink wigs. On Sunday I came across again young people in various cosplay outfits dressing up as characters from some anime and comic books. It is a delight to see the masses playing and seizing the moment to be joyful and celebrating life. Since re-opening after the lockdown, there is a general surge in physical activities and I cannot help thinking whether it had always been this busy before the pandemic. It seems that change is the only constant and yet nothing much has changed.
There are many quotes about change. Amongst them, the Greek proverb:
The only constant in life is change. – Heraclitus philosopher.
and the French proverb :
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose – Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
If we do not address our fears and understand our emotions, we will always be experiencing change and yet nothing changes in us. Life happens, it is what it is. Que sera sera, whatever will be will be.
Imagine a box arrives at your doorstep. It will tell you how many years you have before you die. Would you open the box?
In her debut ‘The Measure‘, Nikki Erlick has created a world where one day in the middle of spring, small wooden boxes with words ‘ The measure of your life lies within‘ inscribed on every box written in the native tongue of its recipient arrive for every person above twenty-one years old . From suburban doorsteps to desert tents, strange identical looking boxes materialize out of nowhere and inside each box lies a single string hidden by a silvery white piece of delicate fabric. The length of the string tells each recipient the number of years he or she will live. As data is collected, scientists declare the strings to be accurate in foretelling their recipients their lifespans. It sends the whole world into a frenzy. Some choose not to open the box while others throw them off the bridges.
‘ There was something both comforting and unsettling about the fact that every adult on earth suddenly seemed to be sharing the same surreal experience, the ubiquity of the boxes both a terror and a relief.’ – The Measure, Nikki Erlick
During early weeks when the boxes first appear, short stringers are invited into the hospital to run a series of tests, but when the short-stringers appear with greater frequency, the hospital no longer performs these tests for the short-stringers who do not exhibit any symptoms. The emergency room is crowded and the legal team worries that doctors who release short- stringers with a clean bill of health might be flirting with a law suit.
Hank is an ER doctor at the hospital. He has witnessed short stringers turning up at the hospital desperately begging to speak with a doctor about their short strings. He decides to quit because he is tired of seeing people coming into the hospital crying, begging for answers that he does not have. He also feels that in his fifteen years of medical practice, he might have brought hundreds of people back from the edge of death, maybe he had merely saved those who weren’t going to die anyway. He has a short string and he cannot do anything about it.
Nina is an editor of a newspaper and she is blessed with a long string but she cannot celebrate the truth of her string without mourning for the truth of her girlfriend’s string. Maura has a short string. Her string ends in her late thirties. She has fewer than ten years remaining. Nina feels powerless watching Maura suffer, because nothing can be done.Nina’s sister, Amie does not want to look into the box as she has read enough novels to recognize that this is part of the story where nobody knows what is going on and where the characters make rash decisions, consequences of which will only be revealed chapters later. Amie teaches at the Connelly Academy where teachers have been given a directive not to ever talk to their students about the strings.
Nina and Maura debate whether to marry and have children. Amie finds an accidental pen pal when she responds to Ben, a short stringer drops his note under the chair in Amie’s classroom, Room 204. Short stringers have formed support groups and one of the groups meet in Room 204. As part of the therapy, the participants are told to write a letter. Ben’s letter is picked up by the janitor who hands it to Amie who teaches ten-year-olds.
Once the truth of the strings have been acknowledged, homes and possessions are sold, jobs are abandoned – ‘all in the pursuit of making the most of one’s time‘. Some travel, some live on the beach while others dive into a abyss of anger, envy and violence. A small number of short-stringers takes advantage of their remaining time to take revenge on those who have wronged them. In London, three computer scientists nearing the end of their strings hack into the accounts of a major bank and make away with ten million pounds.
Amid fear and confusion, Anthony Rollins, a blue-blooded congressman from Virginia campaigning for presidency in the US is using his long string to his advantage. He and his wife, Catherine have long strings. He sees the strings as a blessing from God and uses the threat of fear to get more votes. He spouts incendiary speeches and incites prejudices against short-stringers as their despair is seen as dangerous. Anthony makes hay from the long/short divide.
The President announces that all military positions would require a string disclosure, two new graduates Javier and Jack decide to swap their strings as their placements are dependent on their string length. The string has impacted the world and years later it will become a memory of the past just like how the pandemic has impacted us.
The Measure by Nikki Erlick is a fascinating and thought provoking story about family, friendship, hope and destiny that encourages us all to live life to the fullest. It is a commendable read.
2 thoughts on “About change”
To answer your question, I’d rather not open the box. I’d rather not know when I’d die, because then I get to make my own urgency, and learn to be appreciative of the not knowing. If I knew my timeline, I might ‘strategise’ my remaining time, not unlike optimising for SEO, and that kinda takes away the meaning of life for me.
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Hi Stuart, Thanks for reading the post and leaving a comment. Yea, I’m not sure if I would like that too. I’m already having panic attack as it is… The Measure is definitely a thought-provoking read, it explores our obsessions about longevity and our values in life.