I am old enough, God help me, to remember “duck and cover.” Back at the dawn of time, in the height of the Cold War, even in a small town outside of Montreal, Quebec, we school children of the era understood that “duck and cover” meant a nuclear bomb was headed our way and that we should huddle under our wooden desks and place our hands over our heads to protect ourselves against it.
Yeah, we were that naive.
Here in the US recently, news of the war in Ukraine and Putin’s madness seems to have fizzled out. The spotlight has turned its dubious favor onto the January 6th Committee. I get it. I’m watching the hearings with profound interest as well. They’re important. Really important. Democracy itself is at risk here in the US and far too many people seem happy about that (looking at you, GOP). The Trump criminal enterprise should be stopped as quickly as possible, else we find ourselves living in the 2024 equivalent of East Berlin.
Still, possible nuclear war seems like something we should at least have on our radar (pardon the pun).
On Monday, June 20, Russia’s president, that charmer Vlad Putin, said that Russia is set to deploy its deadly ‘Prometheus’ hypersonic nuclear system. Today, in his latest warning, he said the world-ending Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile would be delivered in the next six months. He’s threatened to unleash Russia’s “Satan 2” nuclear missile against England by year’s end. This would effectively ‘end’ Britain. Peggy Noonan, writing in the Wall Street Journal on April 28, 2022, summed up her views on the present-day threat of nuclear war in just a few words when she wrote, “It’s a tactic: [Putin]’s trying to scare everybody. That doesn’t mean the threat is empty.” No, it’s not at all empty.
Whether the media covers it daily or not, the threat of nuclear annihilation once again dangles over our heads. (And don’t get me started on the fact there will now be MORE guns on the streets, thanks to SCOTUS. Another kind of warfare. But that’s another blog.)
However, there’s little I can do about it. There’s little you can do about it. Oh, we can take to the streets, as my Best Beloved and I did, along with hundreds of thousands of others, in Paris prior to the first Gulf War. People the world over protested that horror. Didn’t do much good, did it?
The truth is there’s very little I can change in a world insistent on thundering toward mass slaughter. It’s a kind of mass psychosis, surely. Now, while I don’t advocate doing NOTHING, and while I do believe it is incumbent upon me to do anything and everything I can to advance the cause of peace, it’s easy to slip into despair, depression, and inaction when faced with the powerlessness I feel.
The only way through it, for me, is to remember I can change myself if nothing else. I can change my response to things. I can create a tiny arc of serenity and hospitality in a mad, mad world.
I have a friend, Sr. Rita, who is a Sister of Saint Joseph. She shared with me part of their maxim, which reads, “…The Sisters of Saint Joseph live and work that all may be one, with a special care for the dear neighbor, without distinction, from whom we do not separate ourselves.” Without distinction. Without separation. Okay, that’s part of what’s called the “Maxim of Perfection” and I’m certainly not perfect or even hoping for perfection, but it does give even this non-Catholic, non-Christian, forest-loving, creek-bathing, Spirit-talking, “Wise” Woman something to aim for.
If the world is about to end, by fire, flood, or the calloused hand of man, is there a better way to spend whatever time I have left than doing what I feel I was sent here to do, what I believe matters, what may in fact make some tiny bit of positive change in the life of my ‘dear neighbor?’ What else, in the end, is there to do with a life, any life, but that?
Years ago I heard a woman talk about seeing some children going through the garbage behind a fast food joint, trying to find something to eat. She went home and made a bunch of sandwiches and returned to feed them. Turns out they were ‘lost’ children. Their parents were gone, or drug addicts who didn’t much care about them, or some such variation. She went back day after day, feeding them. Then, with the help of her neighbors, she started a food pantry in her house. They don’t take government money. They do it themselves. They feed a lot of lost kids. She said, “God doesn’t expect everyone to start a food pantry in their house, but God does expect something.”
Look at what’s in front of you, she was saying. You’ll find something that needs doing. Do that. It’s a variation of that wonderful phrase created by Britain’s Ministry of Information in 1939 as they were preparing the population for the upcoming war: Stay calm and carry on.
Well, right now I have to stay calm to try and get some medication into my Beloved Pup, which as any of you who have been following this blog know is something of a challenge. Today we’re trying pastrami and Cabot’s Sharp Spreadable Cheddar Cheese. We’ll see. Largely this, too, goes under the heading of “Things I Cannot Change.”
And, if you happen to be filled with anxiety about the state of our world, like I often am, let me offer you this poem by the astonishing Joy Harjo to help you remember who you are and how much you matter…
Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.