Joni Mitchell summed up today’s zeitgeist in her 1970’s release, “Big Yellow Taxi.”
“Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone?”
25 years later when she was being interviewed by journalist Robert Hilburn, Mitchell explained it this way:
“I wrote ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ on my first trip to Hawaii. I took a taxi to the hotel and when I woke up the next morning, I threw back the curtains and saw these beautiful green mountains in the distance. Then I looked down and there was a parking lot as far as the eye could see, and it broke my heart… this blight on paradise.”
You don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone, indeed.
If you’re old enough to remember that song, I’ll bet you also remember exactly how you felt on 9/11 2001. But do you remember how you felt on 9/10, the day before?
That’s because your sense of safety and security was just your normal state of affairs. And you weren’t even aware of how normal that was until those two jets screamed into the World Trade Center towers and destroyed your sense of comfort and your peace of mind, were you?
How about early March 2020 when you thought Corona was either an imported light beer or maybe the aura of plasma that surrounds the Sun and other stars?
Or, how about just a few weeks ago when, depending on how light your skin tone is, you thought our country was moving inexorably towards racial equality?
All of a sudden we’re discovering that the things we took for granted are gone. What’s more, we didn’t know how much we valued them until they were no longer around.
Did you used to laugh at people wearing surgical masks in airplanes or shopping centers? Not so much anymore, huh?
How about not thinking twice about shaking hands, handling money, or sharing a Coke or an ice cream cone? Bet you haven’t done any of those things for a while, have you?
All of this makes me wonder why I still hear people saying that they’re just waiting until “things get back to normal.”
Here’s a newsflash – things are not going to get back to normal. Things are going to get back to different.
Yes, I know. People have short memories and we all got back on airplanes not so long after 9/11. But things are different this time. Because this time, a combination of terrible events – from over 110,000 Americans dead from Covid 19 to almost 90 Black Americans killed by law enforcement in 2020 alone – have caused waves of societal upheaval that are going to change everything for a long time to come.
As my friend David Etzler said on a Zoom call just a few days ago, “It’s time to look at what our future is. Not at what our future was.”
Or, as Joni Mitchell said almost 50 years ago “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone?”