Tuesday, October 27, 2009

An Act of Hope During the Cuban Missile Crisis

My parents celebrate their anniversary today. I can always remember how long they've been married if I can remember the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962). My dad was a young officer in the Air Force, and up until just about the moment they got married, they weren't sure if my dad would actually be there, or if he might be called back to his unit. In later years, as I've realized how close to nuclear war the world came during that month, I'm amazed that they actually pulled it off--I'm amazed that we're all still here.

My mom and dad have only recently begun to talk about their wedding in the context of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I can't imagine my mom, as a young bride-to-be, planning the last details of her wedding, while watching world leaders huff and puff. She's rarely talked about that.

I can imagine how I would feel: terrified. I might wonder what would be the point of marrying and pretending that life would go on as normal.

And yet, here we are, almost 60 years later, with life going on as normal. If my parents had cancelled their wedding and lived as if nuclear bombs would rain down at any moment, they'd have spent 60 years living that way. They'd have missed out on the joy of marriage and raising two children. They'd have had no grandson (my sister's boy). They wouldn't have travelled or gone to back to school or had all the joys they've had.

I, too, have been haunted by the prospect of nuclear war, as have many people of my generation and older generations. I've noticed that younger generations just look at me, baffled, when I ask if they worry about the possibility of nuclear war.

Oddly, they're probably more at risk than I ever was. At least when the Soviet Union was intact, we knew where the nuclear weapons were. Now, many of them have vanished--but we know they're out there, somewhere.

Nuclear imagery has found its way into a substantial chunk of my poems, but I've never used my parents' marriage and the Cuban Missile Crisis in a poem. Maybe I'll let that percolate.

In the meantime, I hope that we can all continue to make gestures of wild hope, during these tough times, the way my parents did, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. What would that wild gesture of hope look like, in this time of global warming and pandemic flu?

Love is always such a gesture. To commit to another person, to love others, even though you know they will disappoint you in ways that you can't even imagine--that's a radical act of life-affirming hope. We love, even though we know that all we love will be lost if we live long enough. Even if we don't have the dramatic backdrop of a international standoff that would likely end in nuclear war, to commit to love in the face of all that would erode that love is a such a bold act.

And of course, our love is not limited to people. We adopt pets with lifespans significantly shorter than ours. We write poems, even though we know that we'll be lucky if our readership measures in the hundreds. We read, even though we might be the last generation of readers--and some of us continue to be committed to our esoteric reading interests, even though we might be the only ones still reading those texts. We teach, even though we can't be sure of the lives we'll change--we can only hope to do no harm--and most career trajectories are similar, I suspect. We duck and cover and keep an eye to the horizon for those mushroom clouds--and in the meantime, we live our lives and hope for the best.

Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad! May we all have lives as full of love as you have had.

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