Inordinate. This word has been on my mind lately because of a show the kids discovered on NetFlix, “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” Based on the books by Daniel Handler — also known as Lemony Snicket — the show follows young Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire after their parents die in a mysterious fire. For How I Met Your Mother fans, it’s especially fun to watch Neil Patrick Harris as a delightfully evil villain. Although the main characters are kids, the show doesn’t shy away from sophisticated language: The children use words like “inordinate” and “perished.”
That word, inordinate, stuck with me, and I felt compelled to look up its meaning. One definition is “exceeding reasonable limits,” and synonyms include excessive, exorbitant, and extreme, among others.
It hit me that this is exactly where we’re at right now: All of us are experiencing an inordinate amount of stress, anxiety, uncertainty, and change.
A visit to the grocery store is no longer a casual trip to buy bananas or bread, but a carefully executed task that includes wiping down grocery cart handles, eschewing peak shopping hours, and staying six feet away from any other humans. A “safe” outdoor stroll means maintaining a constant, invisible buffer between yourself and others. Schoolwork, play dates, and other activities that were once face-to-face are now only possible online, thrusting us into a dizzying new world of apps, passwords, Google forms, and video conferencing. We’re trying to navigate these tools with our kids and patch together some semblance of a routine, all the while working remotely in our pre-pandemic jobs (if we even still have that option).
Decisions that used to be effortless now involve a painstaking calculation of risks and benefits. Is it safe to get takeout food if we use contactless payment and throw out the containers immediately before washing our hands? Should we give our dog a bath because she licked another dog whose owner might be asymptomatically infected with COVID-19? If a crowd of people is walking toward me, can I assume we’ll all comply with social distancing guidelines and stay several feet apart? Or is it best to just turn around now and avoid any potential exposure?
Our current reality is characterized by heightened stress and uncertainty, made all the more agonizing because there is no end date. We have no recent comparison for what we’re experiencing now — the closest parallel is the Spanish Flu of 1918-1919.
For a different reason, the children in A Series of Unfortunate Events are also living in a state of uncommon vigilance, uncertainty, and dread. Their enemy is relentless and cruel, leaving them no clear escape, no chance to savor more than fleeting moments of comfort and safety.
But the Baudelaires don’t give up, instead meeting each increasingly impossible setback with bravery and determination. I think this is what makes the series so appealing in the midst of a global crisis that’s left many of us disheartened: The kids support each other and remain optimistic, even when life seems hopeless. They show us what it means to work together as a family unit. And they remind us that the only way to respond to an inordinate challenge is with an inordinate amount of hope, persistence, and love.
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