Monday, March 14, 2011

It's always something...

I was trying to count up the number of really serious things I could recall living through. I remember my mother cutting out the new president's newspaper photo in 1960 (that would be JFK) and saying she was going to send it to her mother (a Republican. My mother claims this is not true. How would I make it up?) and later I recall her telling me they were very very scared, which I am pretty sure had to do with the Bay of Pigs/Cuban Missile Crisis.  When I was seven, Kennedy was shot, which I remember very clearly; we went to washington to see the funeral. When I was thirteen, Martin Luther King was killed and about a month later, so was Bobby Kennedy, and these were terrible.  So were the first shuttle blowing up (I also remember the Apollo capsule and Grissom, White, and Chafee burning), the big attack on the World Trade Center , and the second shuttle explosion. I can remember vaguely hearing about the first attack, and about the massacre in Waco.  Flashbulb memories. Where were you?

I remember the first time I read a small article in the NY about some weird form of cancer that seemed to be affecting the city's homosexual community; I thought that was not going to be the last we heard of THAT, and I was right. I also figured it was too slow to be It, the End of the World as We Know It (although I gather if you were gay and young in New York or San Francisco, it was close enough).

 9-11 was the first time people seemed seriously to believe the end of the world as we knew it had come; we had been let down by Y2K. I remember Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, but I can't recall any emotional freight attached to them.

Katrina was different; those were MY people, Americans, and they were not well served. And if it isn't the same, it's coming back, one way or another, in the same place (which I understand why, but I also can't understand.)

It's not that there haven't been earthquakes before. It's not that there haven't been disasters among industrialized people before, and it is my own hard-heartedness that makes wipeouts in Pakistan and Turkey less shocking than seeing convenience stores and apartment buildings in Biloxi and Christchurch and Miyagi crushed, torn up, or drowned.

But this time there are nuclear reactors involved, and I really do feel like this could be it. Does everyone have an It they wonder if things could be, or is that a habit from reading science fiction? You can't read science fiction without having a thinkable idea of TEOTWAWKI; a lot of fans have more like a relationship with it, a bag packed, a skill set, a look for exits, a checkout for ambush. Some of it's simple paranoia, some of it's justified, some of it's escapism, some of it's cultivated ("Anywhere else has got to be better than it is here"). But we spend a fair amount of time thinking the unthinkable (like, what if you could fly? would you need wings or a jetpack or would it all be like telekinesis? And then everyone with blue eyes became werewolves?). By the way, there are these asteroids? They probably won't hit, or the supernova next door or...

Or you're a history buff: you have to think about the plagues, and read about Lassa fever and SARS, and wonder, particularly as it takes more and more different antibiotics to knock out a baby's earache. Or you read about bees, deforestation, climate change, population growth, the extinction of more species at one time that we have known of since the end of the Cretaceous... I mean, if you're a certain kind of green or lefty you have some difficulty being wholeheartedly optimistic. Denial lets me get around. I usually think the prevalence of depression these days has to do with the way we treat one another or are treated in order to make a living, and the forced obsolescence of perfectly good things, people, and ways of life. I wonder if some it isn't also the number of loud warnings that we are passing the point of any kind of stability.

Or if you study the decline of Rome. The end of industrial life, of this human civilization: we've been there, done that, come back.

But that time there weren't nuclear reactors involved.

I didn't use to dread logging onto Twitter.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Being one of those environmentalist types, I feel it's more likely to be a Firefly thing ("Earth that was got used up")than a Battlestar Galactica thing. Being an optimist, I'm hoping it waits til after my trip to Costa Rica.