Fog and Mist: People and Countries Get Sick and Die

I learned recently that two friends had heart attacks a few nights ago.  They inhabit opposite ends of the political spectrum, so I can’t blame fear of the nightmare that is about to befall the United States (and the world) for their personal catastrophes. I suppose I can blame age and its accompanying ailments. Our bodies wear out or fall victim to our abuses. I told another friend a few nights ago aging is a treacherous process, not one with which I am prepared to deal. But we have limited choices; we can accept our bodies’ decline, decay, and death or we can accelerate the end game. In either case, the result is the same. The arguments for one process over the other are steeped in emotion. Though I might not feel the same way in a week or a month, at the moment I think the arguments favor the natural process; until, that is, the quality of life is so sorely lacking and one’s days are so painful, so unfulfilling, and so utterly monstrous that an unnatural end is the most merciful one. I think even in decline, insights and wisdom can grow like crystals and, quite possibly, if shared with others, can change lives. So, there’s my maudlin thought for the moment.

Everything else in life, except death, seems so temporary and artificial. Even friendships seem to be interactions of convenience. And what of marriage? Marriages do not survive the absence of one partner, do they? So even that monumental institution, the one we witness falling like elaborate domino shows, is as ephemeral as a veil woven of fog and mist. Individual lives and friendships and marriages are the personal equivalents of social structures and political institutions. Yet we see those personal tragedies unfold around us and we recognize them as real, irrevocable events. But when we watch the collapse of complex political institutions, we stare in stunned silence, not believing (depending on one’s perspective), the carnage (or triumph of good over evil) taking place before us.

During the period of its existence, the Soviet Union was, by area, the world’s largest country and one of the most diverse; more than one hundred distinct nationalities lived within its borders. But, between 1989 and 1991, the country that Americans had grown to see as a permanent adversary came undone. The impossible—the disintegration of the Soviet Union—become not only possible, it became a reality.  The United States is not the Soviet Union. But, like the radical change in policy and position that caused the Soviet Union to come undone, a new administration in the U.S.—predicated on trampling civil liberties, eliminating economic justice for the average citizen, and assuming the stance of domestic and international bully with an affliction of pathological prevarication—has the potential and, I believe, the very real likelihood, of taking our country beyond the brink of self-destruction.

At what point, I wonder, does one choose to cease making personal protests at the undoing of his society? What does it take to direct anger and rage not at a keyboard, but at real people doing real damage? When does it become principled to lay down the pen and pick up the sword? These questions will need answers, I’m afraid, and soon. Our choices may well be between soldier, surgeon, and undertaker. Will we fight, will we help to heal, or will we prepare the body for its place in the ground?

I realize this stream-of-consciousness rant is a series of incomplete thoughts. That’s what my mind is about these days. Fear. Loathing. Pain. Weeping for what’s lost, or about to be.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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