I noted recently an article that said there is some concern in the US that Russian submarines may cut undersea internet cables as part of a preface to nuclear war (I think the writer was being just a little over the top, but hey).
I noticed this because I also noticed that I’m 57, which is way older than I thought I would ever be, and that I have (and have always had) trouble thinking very far into the future. For me, the future is Star Trek. It’s never about the next year or the next decade.
And when I started thinking about why I have trouble planning for the future, I realize that it’s because I didn’t expect there to be a future.
The age of nuclear warfare began in 1945, with the US destruction of two Japanese cities. Not long after, the USSR tested its first nuclear weapon. But it was with the advent of the ICBM in 1957 that near-instant nuclear destruction became possible. And that’s the world into which I was born.
It probably didn’t help that I was a science fiction geek, and that in junior high school I read Pat Frank’s amazing and appalling Alas, Babylon. So I had a somewhat, um, apocalyptic childhood. The area where I grew up was also beset with tornados, so it was not unusual to hear the shriek of air raid sirens, either during tests or when the sky turned a sickly yellow-green. These sirens never failed to put my teeth on edge.
I remember one occasion, when my family traveled to Bayfield, WI—then a small town, located near the Apostle Islands. It was late evening, and we were returning to the cabin we had rented, when a siren split the night open. It was 9:00, and Bayfield had a curfew. But I hadn’t known that, and it took a significant time for my heart to slow down.
Each time I heard that siren, a clock started ticking in my heart. I tended for some reason to focus on 20 minutes, which is probably not too far off the mark. During those times, I always hoped to be incinerated in the blast…I was pretty sure I did not want to survive in the benighted world to come (especially after reading Alas, Babylon, which describes the wasting death of a diabetic after the power fails and her insulin spoils).
I suspect that this apocalyptic overhang encouraged me to get involved with charismatic Christianity in high school (the fact that it was espoused by a very attractive girl didn’t hurt). I read the great “end of the world” books and felt reassured. That reassurance was strange, because I don’t think I’ve ever been able to believe in any kind of afterlife or judgment. But I guess I found the certainty of apocalypse better than the mere possibility.
I don’t think there has been any more potentially lethal period in modern history than the decade stretching from 1975-1985. Although others would point to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the later period was full of incidents that involved the nuclear powers, ranging from the Mayaguez Incident through the shoot-down of KAL flight 007 through President Reagan’s “We begin bombing in five minutes.” Comment.
I remember discussing the possibility of getting a vasectomy with friends in the late ’70s. I had decided that having children was a bad idea. After all, if I was doomed, so were they.
Take the possibility of nuclear war and the apocalyptic model of the Christianity to which I adhered at the time together and it is little wonder that I never learned to plan. I expected to be dead before I was 30.
Now, having lived more than 27 years past that deadline, I find myself never having developed the habit of thinking of the future. For me, college was not really preparation for a career, because I knew I would never have one. Rather, it was a way to pass time. Indeed, I think that until T and I married when I was 28, it never occurred to me to think past about a week into the future.
Then we saw the world change in the blink of an eye. In 1989, the wall came down. The USSR began to dissolve.
And still, I am not a planner. I have no destination. I am, as the prince says, a journeyer along the way.
I’m not so sure that’s entirely a bad thing. After you’ve lived with the end of the world hanging over you, everything else is gravy. I don’t especially want to die tomorrow, but, if I did? I wouldn’t have any cause to complain. I’ve had 27 good years past my expected expiration date. Over 29 great years of being married. And I did end up having kids–the first in 1989.
So if I get on a high horse here sometimes about the future of the planet, it’s not for me that I’m concerned. But I would like this to be a better place for my children and their children.
Let’s make a plan.