West Tisbury: “may you live in interesting times”


As the Island has mostly shut down and there are no events or social gatherings while we are self-isolating, I wondered what I would write about this week. Being fascinated by the science and spread of the coronavirus, I thought of a quote, “May you live in interesting times,” and looked it up on the Internet.

There are several variations on the exact wording and citings, most attributed to British statesmen. Joseph Chamberlain, in a speech to Parliament in 1898 said, “I think that you will all agree that we are living in most interesting times.” Frederic R. Coudert wrote in a letter to Sir Austen Chamberlain that he quoted at a conference in 1939, “…a rather banal remark, that we were living in an interesting age.” Nicholas Kristof titled his Sept. 24, 2008 New York Times column, “A Chinese Curse?” The most noted use of the phrase was in a speech by Robert Kennedy given in Cape Town in June, 1996. “There is a Chinese curse which says, ‘May he live in interesting times.’”

According to Wikipedia and other sources I looked at, it is not a Chinese curse at all, but somehow that country has been given credit. The closest analogy seems to be from a Chinese philosopher, “Better to be a dog during peacetime, than a human in times of war.” Nicholas Kristof mentioned that no one he had ever met in China had heard of such a Chinese curse.

Look it up yourself. Puttering around wherever your brain takes you is an engaging pastime as we are all spending time at home in some form of quarantine or self-sequestration.

When it was announced at our Friday morning meeting that the Center For Living would be closing for the next two weeks, the plan was for the staff to continue to come in for training and time to get to some projects we had been putting off. By Sunday, Mary Holmes called to tell us we were to stay home. Mixed feelings, as I was looking forward to both.

So now I am home, looking around at all the projects I have been putting off around here. The weather is lovely to be outside to rake and weed and tidy things up. Inside, there are always drawers and cupboards to organize, windows to wash, piles of books, magazines, and newspapers to go through and deal with. This should be a godsend; two weeks to work around the house. 

So far, I have done the New York Times crossword puzzle, read and watched news, tossed a tennis ball for Abby, made a cup of tea, and wondered what we have in the house for lunch. And written this column. I plan to make soup this afternoon and maybe get a start on some of those chores. Or maybe make another cup of tea and spend the afternoon with a good book, currently “Why We’re Polarized” by Ezra Klein. Or watching updates of the spread of coronavirus and throwing the tennis ball for Abby.

The 2020 U.S. Census is expected to begin this week. Keep an eye on your mail for the initial notification letter, and be sure to fill out your Census form online, or by phone or mail. The online and phone versions are available in 13 languages, including English and Portuguese, and the mail-in version is available in English and Spanish. All responses are strictly confidential. The census will determine about $16 billion in federal funds to Massachusetts, so an accurate count is essential. The Census also affects political representation at the local, state, and federal levels, including the redrawing of legislative districts. For more information, or to get involved in your community, contact Keith Chatinover, chairman of the Dukes County Complete Count Committee, at kchatinover@gmail.com.