So fitting to mark this anniversary. There is something about early September that has always held portents, at least in my lifetime….
I tend to focus more on that other September in 1914. It began the whole train that led to ‘39 and beyond. That it came first, or is arguably a “first cause,” is really irrelevant. 1939 did inaugurate a new era, not only in magnitude, but in kind. The mass slaughters that were so guilelessly, even innocently unleashed in the parades of late August 1914, became true holocaust and opened the doors of our perception to visions of man’s abilities to destroy all life by the end of that struggle in 1945.
I grew up in the shadow of that war. All the adults of my youth had their lives shaped and measured by their relationships to that conflict.
There is something of both 1914 and 1939 about the current climate. A confusion of willful ignorance, an innocence too tightly held to be genuine; and a delirious slide towards appeasement, a wish to do anything, besides act responsibly if only , ”the lights never go out, the music always play…”
As certainties crumble away to show themselves as mirage – as they are wont to do in such times – I find many of the old pieties about WWII to be shimmering and beginning to lose their power to act as anchors to the way reality’s unfolding “should” follow the rules. The significance seems to remain in the lead-ups, the dynamics that played out and culminated in these catastrophes even as their fairy-tale endings, meant to console us into believing that these, and every other tragic epoch, were resolved; that we are once again safely returned to a blissful rest, the rest deserved by those who “mean well.”
It seems to take a full generation, maybe two, for the visceral feel of what it’s like at a time like that – like this? – to fade away and be replaced, not by a churning sense of recognition, but by a deep and paralyzing incredulity. We have yet to make the transition through this, this first, and perhaps most devastating aspect of a slide from delirious innocence to engaged acceptance in the active struggles any being must constantly be willing to maintain, in a give-and-take dynamic with slippery, elusive and potentially dangerous realities.
If only there was a way to stay in that moment’s awakening clarity, find ways to maintain that wary, yet thrilling sense of really living that comes when a crisis sweeps away the platitudes and commonplace that cloud our visions, and before some “Call to Action” is usurped by the pull towards hate and violence as a Righteous response. There are these moments of choice that open up ,and give us a chance – perhaps our only chance – to chose engagement; a real life in play and counter-play with our enfolding realities instead of the apparent ease of ignorance or anger.
This is the Gift such moments bring, as hard as it is to accept that there is anything good about such moments. It is a Gift offered only in times of the greatest need, and a Gift that is squandered at the most precarious cost. This cost has escalated each time in the last century that it was offered and then derailed. We are the heirs of these conditions, can we not do any better?