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Oscar Wilde opined in his 1889 essay, “The Decay of Lying,” that “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” The full distillation of this profound observation would require more — much more — space than allowed in this op-ed. But we can at least touch on its overall nuance.

Pulitzer Prize-winner Jhumpa Lahiri’s most recent work, “Whereabouts,” offers a good starting point. It’s particularly fitting, after the past 18 months of navigating the very rough waters of the scourge inflicted on the world from the ravages of COVID-19.

In addition to its physical wreckage, it heaped upon us all a yet-undefinable emotional toll. It swept through our lives, leaving an isolation that, in the end, had no redeeming qualities. And it continues to heap its heavy burden as we make our way back to some small level of normalcy of a pre-pandemic life.

Every attempt is coupled with an uncomfortable apprehension that promises to grow in intensity. Yet, it’s in our nature to trudge on. And what is left is our innate ability to continue to put one foot in front of the other and move in the only direction acceptable: forward.

The unnamed protagonist in “Whereabouts” is certain only of her uncertainty. She wavers between opposing forces of remaining in place or moving about; fostering friendships or not; celebrating with passion or reining it in; welcoming and embracing a life of solitude or taking a deep breath and chancing a life filled with joy.

Her trepidation is real. The universality of “Whereabouts” is at the core of the work, at the core of what binds us to each other. Each of us is unique, certainly, but these past too many months have shown us all how very much alike we are — how very much we have in common. And maybe that’s what will emerge from a time in the world’s history that will alter its course forever and, hopefully, bring about a change that is so very overdue — one reminiscent of the magnificent simplicity of a chrysalis.

Kathleen M. Jacobs is the runner-up Best Author of West Virginia for 2020. She lives in Charleston.

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