If we could destroy custom at a blow and see the stars as a child sees them, we should need no other apocalypse. - Chesterton

April 17, 2008

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about the end of the world.

Peak oil. Food insecurity. Global Warming (or Climate Change, if you prefer). Mutant viruses. Extinction. Inflation. Recession. Pestilence. Senseless violence on an epic scale. Floods and displacement. Religious intolerance and fanaticism. Unending war. All of these are features of my daily news feed, and life here in America in the 21st Century.

Talking to my mother last night, I mentioned that I carry deep inside me a certain amount of guilt for my selfishness in deciding to bring our beautiful, sunny, pure, joyful son into this world. He doesn't know it yet, but his Earth is, I think, going to be a substantially less beautiful, less healthy, and less prosperous place than the one we currently enjoy. Will he resent us for this? Will he have cause to wonder why we chose to create him at all? Will he go hungry, or be homeless, or suffer in some unimaginable way?

I'm very conscious of my privilege, and of his. I am, in fact, painfully aware of how easy we have it compared to most mothers and babies across the globe. We live in a nice house, and I have no reason to believe that anytime soon we'll personally be facing famine or violence. One could even say that we are affluent, although by American standards we are most certainly just on the cusp of middle class. On the flip side, however, it is also true that we undeniably live in "interesting" times. I have no trouble at all imagining post-election riots here. Its disturbingly easy to picture my beautiful coastal city locked-down under martial law. I have to confess that I'm unseasy every time I hear a helicopter flying overhead, even though I know its probably just a lifeflight transporting a patient to Boston or bringing them home again. I found that I couldn't watch Jericho because I found its core idea - widespread destruction followed by splintering of the Union and civil War - to be all too plausible to be entertainment. In those first few sleep-deprived weeks when E was a newborn I had a reoccurring dream that Josh and I were on foot, carrying E in a backpack, trekking through the forests of Northern Maine towards the Canadian border, fleeing ... something. I don't find that far-fetched and actually find myself subconsciously thinking about it, planning for it -- looking at details, thinking how we would live at survival level or even flee on short notice if it became necessary.

I wonder how other mothers - in Kenya, in Haiti, in the dumps of Guatemala City, in Tanzania and Darfur, how those mothers find the strength to continue to bear and raise children, knowing there is an excellent chance that beautiful, beloved child will die before it can walk. I find myself thinking of European women who became mothers in the 1930's and early '40's - even Jewish women living in Germany under the oppression of the Nuremberg Laws, knowing or fearing that worse was to come. What mechanism enables those mothers to handle the fear? Cope with the loss? What mechanism enables them to have hope? Will this become clearer to me should I ever need to face it close up?

I was talking this over with my own mother last night. My mother was born on the cusp of WWII; she was four when Pearl Harbor was bombed and just about every childhood memory she has is tied in some way to living on the home front during the war. And this was her insight:

In those times, she said, there was a sense of community that is simply lacking in America today. There was a sense of "being in it together" and looking out for one another that is tough to find in the well-manicured suburbs and condominium developments of modern America, but which is much more prevalent in impoverished communities both here and abroad. My mother believes that one upside to the pending crisis of the American Empire is that it will force us, as citizens, to be less selfish and less greedy - that we will somehow become better people in the face of this deprivation. And that because we are able to hope for a better world for our children, we teach them to aspire to something better, and it is that aspiration that enables both us (as mothers) to endure and them (as children) to continue on, trying to build a civilized life as best they can.

I have to hope that she's right - that somehow hope and aspiration are enough to allow us to endure the changes that are surely coming. But I'm also making sure we have canned food and powdered milek and extra propane in the basement, just in case.