by Robert Arvay, Contributing Writer
Throughout history, human life has been dominated by misery. Wars, famines, plagues and natural catastrophes were rampant, not to mention tyrannies that were cruel and oppressive. Life was brutal and short.
A few candles lit the darkness. For those of us fortunate enough to have been born in the Americas and Europe during the twentieth century, it may be difficult to understand what life is (and was) like for those born far from the glow of candles.
My grandmother was born in East Europe in the 1880s, was orphaned in infancy and raised by relatives. She bore seven children; the first four all died at very early ages. She then immigrated to the U.S., where disease broke out on her ship and killed most of the passengers. The ship was quarantined in New York Harbor until there were no deaths for a couple of weeks; then the survivors were allowed ashore. A year or so later, the 1918 influenza epidemic overwhelmed the same city – so severely that there were corpses lying in the streets. Twenty million died worldwide, more than in the war which ravaged the same generation.
My paternal grandmother had a less tragic life, but by today’s standards, one of hardship. To the day she died, she cooked on a wood-burning stove, pumped water from the back porch, and used an outhouse. Living on a farm, the Depression years did not cause hunger, but she rarely had cash. I remember the jar of Indian Head pennies she hoarded.
We have it easy. After a recent storm, I was without electricity for two days. Trust me, you never know how central electric power is to your life until you have to do without it for more than a day. We dared not open the refrigerator door. Nightfall brought virtual blindness. The summer heat and humidity were stifling. The inability to watch TV and make telephone calls was frustrating, even maddening.
Yet this was in the U.S., and however uncomfortable those two days were, we had confidence. The lights would come on again, and life would return to what we so casually call, normal.
Much of the world is not like that. Not only is the summer heat stifling in most impoverished regions, but that is the least of the worries of many people. Death is a constant specter, looming darkly just outside the front door at every moment. It may come in the form of disease, crime, or war. Tyrannies deprive people of their freedom and dignity, and smother them in constant fear, anxiety and frustration. For those people, there is no promise that tomorrow the lights will come on. The illumination of candles is very far away indeed.
In watching the news about ISIS, one is reminded of the rampaging hordes of barbarians that throughout history periodically swept across Europe, orphaning large portions of the population, leaving ruin and desolation in their wake. Vikings, Huns and Mongols, to mention only a few, devastated what are today gleaming cities and centers of culture, but which in those times were wooden villages where farmers struggled daily to eke out a living from the dirt.
Today, we witness the same thing happening in the Middle East. Unlike in days of yore, the tragedies are painfully visible to anyone who cares to watch the news on television or the internet.
Shockingly, many do not. They live in their tiny little world of physical pleasures, absorbed in sports, entertainment and the night life.
One wonders. What will those people think when terror comes into their own neighborhoods? Yes, we do have high crime areas, but those are due more to ignorance than to foreign invaders. The uneducated in America suffer not from a lack of schools and libraries, but from a cultural disease that values physical pleasure more than the dignity of work.
September 11, 2001 woke us up for a day.
The Boston bombing disturbed our slumber on another morning.
Now and then, we are shaken, roused from our sleep by events …Then we get back to what we call “normal.”
Fear normal, because normal may anesthetize us … and the result is mass slaughter.
To paraphrase British Foriegn Secretary, Sir Edward Grey, August 3,1914 on the eve of World War I: when the candles are snuffed out again, they might not be relit in our lifetime. It’s not paranoia when they really and truly do plan to kill you.
I visualize an entire American city incinerated, while the adjacent city carries on, oblivious in the candlelight that it is next on the list.
Forget global warming, it is global madness that will do us in.