I woke up this morning with a vivid dream still playing out in my mind. A large group of people, some I knew, some I didn’t, were hurrying to gather up a few things they would be allowed to take with them down to the nuclear shelter under the building we were in. We’d been told we had fifteen minutes to gather our things and get into the bunker before all nuclear hell broke loose. I kept getting confused, having to stop and think about what was essential to take. When I’d figured it out, and gathered a passport and wallet, a book and my extra pair of glasses to put in my small bag, I started heading down the hill to the entrance of the shelter. But I dropped my bag several times and had to retrace my steps, go back and retrieve it, while time kept ticking by. It was a beautiful day and the landscape around the shelter was lush and green, but the only thing that was really real was that I might run out of time and not make it into the shelter in time. I woke up with my heart racing.
I am sure there are all kinds of Freudian interpretations and otherwise, to apply to my dream. I don’t think that’s it, though. I watched the evening news a couple of days ago, right after North Korea launched its latest missile. A mild-mannered man in Hawaii was explaining that the state government there was resuming its monthly testing of the island’s nuclear warning system. It wasn’t that I freaked or had a panic attack. It’s that a sense of hope and optimism imploded in my chest.
I have never romanticized a time in my life as “the best of times.” One of my very earliest memories is of being out in the streets in Cali with my mother—she had me out in the specially rigged stroller that the good folks at Boston Children’s had made for me so my parents could take me places even though I was in my full-length cast. I couldn’t understand why the people who shared the sidewalk with us were crying and then I heard someone say, “Mataron a Kennedy”—they killed Kennedy. I remember being very young and listening to my parents talk about the hundreds of children that had died somewhere in Colombia because somehow, a bottle of Malathion, a virulent poison, spilled into a large vat of milk and the spill went unnoticed. The milk was bottled and delivered all across the city, and first the children, but soon anyone who had drunk the milk simply died. I could go on enumerating how earthquakes, the Yom Kippur War of ’73, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, so many other moments, that reminded me we live a precarious existence.
All that is vivid and clear for me. And I have also never seen our world as utterly out of its mind as I do right now. Until now, there had been some kind of assurance that we’d find our way through just about anything because the US had a level of strength and integrity that would make the difference. Today, China and Russia become stronger and stronger as I watch a group of mainly old privileged white men cutting deals and massaging legislation not to serve the people of this country but to benefit the wealthy donors who oiled the way for these men and a handful of women to get and maintain power. They are mortgaging my special needs child’s and all our children’s future. I join with many folks who wonder if our president is out of his mind. We are using a kind of language about North Korea that simply terrifies me—I suspect that is what my dream was about. I am thankful for the effects of the #metoo campaign and I also find myself bracing for a backlash against women. Indeed, for me, darkness comes early these days, and stays late.
When I woke up from my dream, I thought about what it means to shelter in place here on our small farm. As tornado season begins each year, we remind ourselves that our guest bathroom, with its Pepto-Bismol pink tile and wonderfully foolish little chandelier, is our safe space. The space is small and we often laugh at the thought of Sherod, and Mo and Daisy and Spot and me, my dad, Pia and Mouse (and now Gilbert and Sunny) all fighting for space in the tub; I suspect we can laugh because we’ve never had to seriously consider going into that space. The fragility of that bathroom, its utter inadequacy in the face of a real tornado warning, let alone a nuclear threat, the sense of finding no safety in any human enterprise, not even the enterprise called the United States of America, is not what I want to face into on a Friday morning, the first of December, when preparations are already underway for Christmas.
And perhaps, just perhaps, that is the exact right time to face into such profound fear because what hope there is does not reside in humankind. “Surely it is God who saves us, I will trust in God and not be afraid”.