David Cogswell | July 22, 2016 10:00 AM ET
This Crazy World
It was a song from the radio that broke the spell and drew my attention away from the headline that had me riveted: “TRUCK ATTACK ON FRENCH CROWD; SCORES DIE.”
The shocking headline had set off a torrent of words and images of horror, cascading through my mind. I was remembering the day before someone saying, “It’s never been this crazy.”
And then the song broke through my nightmarish thoughts and brought me back into the room.
The song was “Crazy,” sung by Patsy Cline. Crazy indeed.
I have heard many people say practically the same words: “It’s never been this crazy.” It seems almost every day we are confronted with some horrendous mass murder that strains our capacity to even conceive, let alone believe.
After each attack on innocent bystanders I find myself talking to tour operators, drawn back again to the same subject over and over. And I think it must be a law of nature that any process can only repeat so many times before there is some kind of change, some transmutation.
What is happening to us?
It must be remembered that the mass murders of recent months have come from a varying list of motivations. Many are so inexplicable we will never understand what motivated them. Most of the perpetrators are killed at the scene, so as to their motivations we have only mysteries.
Some of the attacks are inspired by the conflicts in the Middle East, blowback from an attack on a country that did nothing to us. Those acts of desperation and rage by confused people from shattered civilizations we call terrorism.
Some of the attacks are hate crimes. The attack in Orlando appeared to be based on homophobia, but the reports are so full of confusing information it is hard to say for sure what happened. The attacks on schoolchildren are so inconceivable I can’t imagine any explanation that could provide any worthwhile insight.
There is little rhyme or reason as to where or why these horrendous events take place. And it follows that there is no way to effectively insulate yourself from risk.
Tour operators talk about a new reality. The reality is that there is risk in the world, and all of us are mortal. The new reality is really the oldest of realities. The fact that it is new to us shows how fortunate we have been to have been able to remain virtually unaware of the violence and suffering that many people around the world go through on a nearly constant basis, and have done virtually throughout history.
We hear about scores dying in Sudan or in Asia and it seems so remote. The reports fade in and out with blaring commercials and other noise and it all blends together in a cacophony that makes little impression.
Lately the violence seems to be getting closer to home and it forces us to confront it. I don’t know if the risks are actually greater than a few years ago, but it feels like it. So what do you do?
As to the statement “It’s never been this crazy” I have to correct the record. There is no doubt that things are crazy in ways they have never been before. There are new kinds of craziness that never existed before. But no, I don’t think we can claim to live in the craziest time.
I am reminded of the narrator in Dostoevsky’s "Notes from Underground": “One may say anything about the history of the world — anything that might enter the most disordered imagination. The only thing one can’t say is that it’s rational.”
We only have to take a cursory glance at history and we are forced to admit that we have it really well at this time and place. For most people who have the luxury of being able to read this page, we have it better than nearly all of the people who have ever lived on this planet.
We should keep this in mind. We may have at some point thought that our good fortune should extend to immortality. But that is not granted to even the most powerful monarchs of history.
Even without consulting the history books, I have known people who have endured horrors and hardship that are almost unthinkable to me. My own mother and grandparents lived in England during World War II when their city was showered with bombs and rockets day after day and death was a daily experience. How crazy was that?
My father was on Omaha Beach in Normandy on D-Day, one of the deadliest scenes of carnage in history. Growing up I had almost no idea of what they had been through.
It was only when I grew up and was able to learn about history that I began to understand how horrible those experiences must have been. And yet they came out okay. They were bright and intact and full of hope and promise. There was a good life after all that.
So yes, we should recognize that our times in America are not so bad, at least not for most of the people I know. It is necessary to recognize that there are no immortals. Our time on earth is limited. You can’t avoid the kind of risk that is anywhere and everywhere. But that should not be news to us. The only reasonable response is to just get on with our lives. There is much to do and there isn’t much time.
After being hunched over the computer all day, I decided it was time to get out and shake off the cobwebs. As I walked out into the fresh air and sunlight I felt as if I had been lit up from inside. How great to be able to go outside and experience nature! I felt like a prisoner who had been let out into the prison yard and had only a limited time to enjoy the natural elements that most of us enjoy whenever we want.
How sad it is for those people, I thought. What a horrible fate to be imprisoned! And yet, I had locked myself up all day until that moment. I was a voluntary prisoner.
Hearing all these horrendous news stories could inspire me to lock myself indoors to avoid all risk. But then I would be forcing some kind of imprisonment upon myself. And when one is given the gift of life and has some measure of health and freedom, it seems criminal to waste it.
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