Sure, there have always been bad times to turn nineteen. In Vietnam, for one, the average age of the combat soldier was (n-n-n-n-)nineteen, as Paul Hardcastle has told us. And obviously, as a young person, I’m much less likely to be seriously affected by the coronavirus than someone aged ninety. In fact, when I did contract the virus, it merely kept me in bed for a few days.
But I’ve been thinking about the number nineteen nonetheless, prompted by the cosmic coincidence of “Covid-19” spreading worldwide in the year of my nineteenth birthday. Nineteen, for me, is an age of political awakening. It’s a time where adulthood looms large - only one more year until I’m no longer even a teenager - and as such it’s the time to understand what kind of world I’m walking out into.
So I’ve spent most of my locked-down, isolated year sitting about reading news articles. And the more news I read, the more I understand the true consequences of this year’s disasters.
But it seems that everyone else is joining me this year in my political awakening. We’re all 19 in 2020.
Take the example of the one political figure who’s been impossible to avoid this year: Donald Trump. The media talks about him nineteen to the dozen. An elderly leader who’s been playing golf as his country burns around him, evidently more eager to celebrate in the “nineteenth hole” than dig his economy out of the rough, Trump has shifted in the public perception from a comical buffoon to an authoritarian threat this year, even if he himself never changed.
Think of the 19th of June. This year, in America, celebrations of ‘Juneteenth’ - an annual celebration of the emancipation of black people - were as passionate as ever. But because of Trump’s brutal ‘Law and Order’ strategies and the racial tensions created by the repeated murders of black people by police, 2020’s Juneteenth was more intense than any in recent history. It became commonplace to call Trump a fascist, a label confirmed by his current refusal to accept the election results.
I’ve seen the impact of these events on other young people. We’ve done all we can to support Black Lives Matter, using platforms like Instagram to share petitions, and taking to the streets in protest.
But our elderly leaders are stuck in the past. Specifically, the 1900s: Boris thinks he’s Churchill, casting himself as a wartime prime minister fighting an “invisible enemy”. And the symbolic removal of slave-owner statues has merely provoked politicians to defend our imperial history, rather than acknowledge our structurally racist present.
As a teenager, though, I’m far less interested in history than everyone else seems to be. As The Courteeners sing, you’re not nineteen forever; I’m much more interested in what 2020 will mean for the future. Young people are going to have to scour the ruins of economies, scavenging for jobs in a post-covid world.
In the spiritual science of numerology, the number nineteen signifies the end of one era and the start of another. This is not a reassuring year to base the next era on; it started with large swathes of Australia in flames, and went on to feature fires ferocious enough to turn the skies of California orange. Climate change will hit young people the hardest. We’ll live with it the longest. As such, we’re at the forefront of activism against it.
Adele covered a Bob Dylan song, “Make You Feel My Love”, on her album 19. The penultimate verse reads:
The storms are raging on the rolling sea
And on the highway of regret
The winds of change are blowing wild and free
You ain't seen nothing like me yet
Storms are certainly raging, whether they be literal, climate-change-driven storms, or hate-fuelled political tempests. To avoid “the highway of regret”, those making the highways should ask themselves “Should I give up, or should I just keep making pavements, even if it leads nowhere?”
Young people around the world are waking up this year to the regrets of the modern world. Milton’s nineteenth sonnet says “they also serve who only stand and wait”, but we cannot serve our planet by standing and waiting. With a long, undecided future ahead of us, we’ve got the most to lose from our nineteen hand. We’ve been, and will continue to be, the winds of change, blowing wild and free.
You ain’t seen nothing like us yet.
Feature Image: Pixabay @Tumisu