My husband has been reading a book on the history of Minnehaha County, South Dakota. It was published in 1949, and Don’s name appears on the flyleaf in the large, round Palmer-method hand of someone who had just learned to write script at Laura Ingalls Wilder School (no kidding). The other day he read aloud from a section entitled “The Atomic Bomb.”
“The potentialities of the bomb, said to be simple in its construction, are alarming,” wrote author Charles A. Smith, “especially if the secret of its construction becomes known. It seems that every form of life, animal or plant, and even the atmosphere and the ocean waters, are not immune from its influence, once its energies have been released. Nor does the explosion end the effects of the bomb. Its energizing powers, thus released, continue to exist to indefinitely permeate our atmosphere. There are those of today who fear our atmosphere has already become disturbed by it, causing the prolonged unseasonable weather we are now experiencing.
“This is history in the making. It might be interesting fifty years hence to people who remain, if they do, to know the story of its inception and development, and something of its results and effects. At the present time, it is a source of much concern, fear, and astonishment.”
There’s something irresistible about predicting the end of time. I’m old enough to have done it as a kid in the Fifties and–each time with what seemed like good reason–every decade since. Yet–despite the Black Death, the Holocaust, the hydrogen bomb and AIDS–here we are. It is a form of hubris, and of escapism, to suppose that the evils of our own day are finally sufficient to extinguish life. Each time the world’s end has seemed unavoidable, life has lumbered on, the aggregate of millions of individual choices, guesses, and accidents. Most likely, as with past generations, our own challenge will be to live. I believe it is our individual comprehension of events, our individual responses to them, that will save us this time. We must wake up and live as if our lives mattered to the fate of the world. That’s why I wrote \Clarity\.