Columnist Karen Gardner: Life is surreal

Published: 10/12/2021 3:47:42 PM

I was sitting outside having lunch with a friend the other day, and she was telling me that the world we’re living in feels just like one of those great science fiction books she’s loved all her life.

Instead of reading a book of fiction about all the crazy ways life can be turned upside down, we are living inside one, she told me. Unfortunately, I think she’s right, but wish she weren’t.

The pandemic and its many life-altering changes have certainly made my life feel unreal. Last week I attended my first live show in more than 18 months. It was at the Majestic Theatre in West Springfield, and it was wonderful and thrilling to be inside a theatre with live performers and music. I had to show proof of vaccination and was required to wear a mask, which all made sense, though it did feel strange.

But it became surreal once the performance began. From where I sat, I could look out at the audience which was lit up by the lights from the stage. I couldn’t see their faces as, of course, they were hidden behind their masks. Very surreal, like a scene from a scary TV show, maybe that one called Twilight something.

I found myself wondering what it might be like for the performers who were putting their hearts and souls into their performances, but surely were unable to see how the audience was responding. I thought, how surreal for them too. But, of course, we made up for that disconnect with loud, sustained applause.

Surreal. That seems to be the word that describes almost everything about my daily life. Sure, I slip into a kind of acceptance of the way things are as if it’s always been this way. But underneath is the shadow of how odd and unnatural life has become. And dangerous, as well.

Beyond the effects of the pandemic has also come a world where what you see with your own eyes can eventually be turned into something else entirely. Millions of people watched in horror as mobs of people took part in a violent insurrection at the U.S Capitol on Jan. 6 of this year. I watched it on TV and saw the mobs breaching the barriers, breaking windows, attacking police who were trying to protect our elected legislators who had gathered inside to certify the election results of the duly-elected president.

Those insurrectionists ran through the halls calling out their intention to find Vice President Mike Pence and the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. They made countless videos of themselves to prove that they had been there to “stop the steal” as then President Donald Trump had directed them to do. We have Trump on video at his rally directing the crowd to go up the road to the Capitol that day and “fight like hell.”

I saw all this on TV as it was happening, live. And then later saw the many videos the rioters proudly made and shared on social media. I saw the gallows that those insurrectionists erected to hang the vice president, saw the U.S. Capitol Police being chemical-sprayed and beaten with flag poles, and saw the mob searching the hallways seeking out lawmakers.

I can only shake my head in horror at the thought of what they would have done if they’d been able to locate them. Beat them as they did the police? Hang the VP? What I saw was an extremely violent, out of control mob attack our Capital building and all those inside in an attempt to violently overthrow the results of a fairly won election.

But that’s not what really happened, not what we saw with our very own eyes. Since Jan. 6, the former president along with his allies, the Republican Party, and right-wing media outlets, such as OAN, have worked tirelessly to paint a wholly different picture of what we saw. And it has worked, hasn’t it?

According to the Washington Post, a Reuters/Ipsos poll “found in April that about half of Republicans believe the siege was either a nonviolent protest or caused by left-wing forces trying to make Trump look bad.” And about half of Republicans still believe Trump’s “big lie” that he won the 2020 election.

A nonviolent protest? Really? Even after you watch the documented videos, hear testimony from the police officers who were there? How can so many people believe that what happened that day did not actually happen?

Surreal. It fits perfectly with Trump’s big lie, that he won the 2020 election in a landslide but was cheated out of it by widespread election fraud, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. If the facts don’t fit your need, then make up new ones and keep repeating those lies until people lose touch with the factual world and latch onto a made-up one. Even more frightening is that our democracy is being destroyed in the process.

Since he came onto the political scene, I’ve been waiting and hoping that his supporters, his base, will suddenly wake up and reject Trump’s dangerous lies and self-dealing, and realize that people who disagree with them are not evil, as Trump and his party would have them believe. I want what they want, a government that supports all its citizens, that spends, no matter how much, on programs that will enrich all our lives, not just those few wealthy people at the top, and big corporations.

As surreal as these times are, please don’t let our vibrant democracy slip into the fog of history. Look for the truth, it’s out there.

Karen Gardner, of Haydenville, can be reached at

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