On this last day of 2017, there are many articles and social media posts that look back at the year that was. I look back, thankful for some things, less thankful for others – and then I realize that even those things that are a challenge to be grateful for are gifts also. Every moment gives us the opportunity to glean something, to learn and to go forward. As a result, I won’t detail much of what was, but I will refer to one thing that resurfaced – regrettably so – in 2017.
Life or death? Which one do we choose? Most of us, if we are honest, float back and forth between the two. Whether it is too much sugar in our diet, or supporting a particular political position, or by avoiding the difficult and perpetual journey of examining our morals, principles, values, and conscience, we are constantly choosing one or the other.
Frankly, like many, I am not good at navigating this journey – and that is a huge part of what our faith journey requires. Heading down unmapped paths that are chock-a-block with challenges, difficult to traverse, and full of peril. Yet that is what we are called to do. Can’t I just stay on the sofa and scroll through social media or watch Netflix, not thinking about this stuff? Yet we are constantly called to make choices, most of them in one way or another, leading to life or death.
That’s a lot of words of preface to say that one larger matter of life and death hovering in my heart today has to do with the prospect of nuclear war. As a kid who was in elementary school in the early sixties, I was well prepared to quickly get under my desk in order to stay safe during a nuclear attack. I did believe that my safety was assured by this monthly practice. Yet, my father’s ever present copies of books like Fail Safe and On the Beach, and his discussions of them with my mother or friends, began to alter my awareness. Dad was a kind of “bomb the crap out of them” kind of guy, not a peacenik. But me, well I was different. And dad did spend a fair amount of time as an Air Force soldier in the Pacific during WWII, so he had many thoughts on the topic.
My obsession stayed with me. Once a bit older, I tirelessly I read and studied about WWII, the Holocaust, and the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I read everything I could get my hands on and became strongly anti-nuclear war. In the mid-80’s I read a newly published book that intensified my beliefs, Hiroshima Maidens. There is no shortage of information to remind us of the tragic toll of nuclear war.
It seemed that the end of the Cold War brought with it at least a modicum of anti-nuclear sensibility, but that I now see as a distraction. Here we are at the dawn of 2018, some 60 odd years after the horrific bombings in Japan, and the possibility of nuclear war has reemerged. With bombs many, many times the size of those bombs, the spectre of death grows even greater, but that does not deter those in power from a loud sabre rattling, does it?
It would appear that in the choice of life or death, nuclear war spells death because a nuclear war is not really a “winnable” war – whatever that means anyway. Somehow though, in order to preserve (???) our own lives, some imagine that a pre-emptive strike is our ticket to living. This is a premise that I do not understand for about a zillion reasons. Eventually, radiation sickness would consume a large amount of the population, and with cities such as New York, Los Angeles, or Washington DC physically destroyed, the economy and government would likely collapse. I’m not excited to be discussing this dystopian nightmare, but I am aware of it. (I found this article about the contemporary impact of nuclear war, published earlier in the year, worth reading.)
And if we were to send off the first blast, why on earth would we want to kill so many people in another land, the majority of them innocents, and then continue to kill others who would get sick and die from radiation? Remember – life or death? Which do we choose? If this is the only choice I get to preserve my life, well then I know what I choose.
Pope Francis is a hero to many and a pariah to others, a sentiment reminiscent of how people knew or understood Jesus Christ. It is no accident that as this year closes he is distributing this prayer card.
The text on the back loosely translates as follows:
“A boy who waits his turn at the crematorium for his dead brother on his back in this photo taken by an American photographer, Joseph Roger O’Donnell, after the atomic bombing in Nagasaki. The sadness of the child only expresses himself on his lips bitten and oozing blood. ” Above the quote it reads in Italian “…il frutto della guerra” or “the fruit of war.” Life or death.
As this year ends and a new one begins, what will we each choose? Life or death? If I choose sugar, fat, carbs, and no exercise (as I have regrettably done for most of 2017) I choose death. I’m trying to surrender into changing that. (Note – in that “war” I surrender and stop trying to “force” health and life instead of choosing it.) In larger matters, such as this one, it means standing strongly against nuclear war.
What will we each choose this year? Walking in the direction of life or death? Life or death, what it is? Reminded by Christ in the season of his birth, and as one year ends and a new one begins, I know what I hope to choose in matters great and small. Focusing on the present, remembering the past, and hoping for the future, what will you choose?
I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live… Deuteronomy 30:19
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