4 Comforting Facts About Uncomfortable Subjects
Optimism is not a trait I possess in spades. Attribute it to clinical anxiety, my general perspective of the world or the fact that it feels pretty earned these days, but I’m much more of a “who gives a shit about how much water is in this glass” kind of guy. It’s definitely not exactly a soothing time to be alive either. As far as the calming properties of the general part of the timeline we’re currently occupying, it’s a lot less chamomile tea and a lot more shotgunning off-brand gas station energy drinks. But you know what they say, without hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of rainy days, you wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate a day where it only rains a little. Or something like that.
Following that energy, and in an attempt to desperately try to find some sort of salve for my raw, scabbed-over psyche, I’ve taken to that wild frontier of information, the internet, to find some encouraging tidbits in the midst of the storm. Now, none of these are about to decrease my Zoloft dosage, but my hope is that they can at least provide, for both you and I, the brief moment of respite that a short video of a very small dog would — at least before you find out that it’s because of a terminal bone disease that makes it look so cute. Okay, back to positivity!
Here are four comforting facts about profoundly uncomfortable subjects to slightly brighten your day…
The Pandemic Improved Air Quality
The COVID-19 pandemic had so many far-reaching negative effects across the entirety of the globe that I won’t waste part of your monitor’s precious resolution listing them off. From the obvious sickness and death to tanked global economy to having to listen to somebody yell at a Panera employee about mask policy, the things COVID made worse were basically: everything. Trying to find shreds of optimism in it feels like complimenting the shoes on a foot someone just had amputated. You don’t need rose-colored glasses, you need a rose-colored welding mask.
But if you desperately, as many of us do, need some pinpoint of light in this dark shroud, science did find one thing that was notably improved by the pandemic. That was the air quality in major cities, even ones famous for suffering from serious smog. L.A.’s infamous smog, for example, was not only quantitatively but visibly cleared from the city due to the reduction in pollution. In fact, according to the L.A. CBS affiliate, in 2020, L.A. spent a period of time as the city with the cleanest air in the world. Meanwhile, another place known for poor air, China, where air pollution is attributed to 1 million deaths per year, saw a 25 percent drop.
Now, there’s a chance, of course, that all this gets reversed as things return to whatever we now consider normal, but hopefully these cities take advantage of this opportunity to see everything (literally) more clearly.
The Ozone Is Healing
Climate change is a massive problem that is not getting any better, and we should all still be focused on the fact that we may be telling our grandkids of a fabled substance known as snow, as we rip across the burned-out husk of the earth in a Mad-Max style modded-out muscle car. Those of us who are a little older, though, might have noticed one specific issue that’s dropped off in attention, that being the ozone layer. For a time, it seemed that holes in the ozone layer were going to be the end of civilization as we know it.
But concern about the ozone layer has faded away not because of irrelevance or disinterest, but because some serious efforts to avoid it were effective. In a collective global collaboration effort that seems entirely less possible these days, and through the agreement on measures known as the Montreal Protocol, which definitely sounds like something that activates every assassin in the world, the ozone layer has been quietly healing. In fact, in 2019, the U.N. announced that the ozone layer is on track to heal completely within our lifetimes.
Voter Turnout Is Up
The storied days of collaboration and public service within the halls of Congress, however gilded they may be, don’t quite exist anymore. It’s a little more painted as a fight for America’s future that’s taking place in a 7-Eleven parking lot where one of the fighters has untreated ringworm. Nowadays, there’s so much insane bullshit spouted within the nation’s capital that it could almost make C-SPAN watchable television. It feels a little less like the sort of historical legislation that the records of which will end up in the Library of Congress, and closer to a Parks and Recreation town hall scene.
However, while it feels like a constant psychic beratement, the government forcing its way to the front of our minds has had one big benefit: People are actually voting. It turns out that having certifiably insane people within grasp of public office is a whole lot more motivating than Coolio, god rest his soul, telling teens to vote. Over the last couple of years, voter turnout has been some of the highest ever recorded, not only for presidential elections but for the comparatively much less exciting, but important midterm elections. To that end, the 2018 midterms had the highest turnout that the Census had recorded since they started tracking it in 1978.
Visions Approaching Death
Ah, that old bugaboo: death. Possibly humankind’s greatest shared fear, just slightly ahead of farting during a school play, it haunts the back of our thoughts endlessly. You don’t get drawn up as a skeleton in a robe with a scythe because people are big fans. Though we may owe Death credit for some things, like the Final Destination movies, it’s certainly not a welcome visitor in anyone’s personal timeline. Some reports and studies from people working in hospice care, though, suggest that the last days of life actually ARE moments of peace, and that those claims aren’t just an empty reassurance (if you die of natural causes, that is, and don’t get creamed by a city bus).
One particularly fascinating report is that of visions that people experience near the end of life. After having my curiosity sparked by a TikTok on “visioning,” I did some further research, since if everything on TikTok was true, every single person on earth would have OCD as diagnosed by a 14-year-old.
The claims were backed up by an article in Discover and the work of a physician named Christopher Kerr, the methodology of which was in turn backed up by all sorts of acronym-possessing scientific boards. Indeed, they found that, near death, people were often visited and comforted by visions of deceased family and friends, easing them into the great beyond. I’ll leave you with the excerpt below, which might give you a couple seconds of “aw” before returning to our collective constant “oh no”:
“What seems to happen is that there’s this progression where people almost have an affirmation of having lived, and it lessens the fear of death. The stories are just remarkable. Even the negative ones are probably the most transformational or meaningful. Somebody, for example, had PTSD, in his end-of-life dreams he was comforted by seeing soldiers that he felt survivors’ guilt from. And then he could sleep. He found peace.
“What was also fascinating was who was in the dreams. And, far and away, it was the people who loved or secured us best; who loved us unconditionally. You could be 95 years old, but it could be your mother’s voice from when you were five that you’re hearing. It’s really quite profound.”