I will admit that annual observances of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima weren’t much on my mind when you entered the world in the early evening of August 5, 1998. I was too giddy with anticipation for what was about to transpire as I huddled with your mother, grandmother, a doctor and a rotating cadre of nurses around your birth mother’s bed, doing what we could to comfort her in her travails while hoping to speed you down that birth canal.
You finally made it, after some amount of struggle and a few tense moments when I noted the doctor casting a nervous eye on the gizmo that showed your blood pressure and suddenly adopting a very stern voice in telling Natasha, “You HAVE to push REALLY HARD now, we HAVE to get this baby out of here!”
And so she did, and so you came, and nothing in my world has been the same since.
Hiroshima is 16 hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time, so the bombing there at 8:15 a.m. local time on August 6, 1945 happened at 4:15 p.m. PST on August 5, just a couple of hours before the time of your birth. I had been noting the observances of the world’s first and only wartime nuclear blast ever since coming across John Hersey’s book, titled simply, Hiroshima, as an adolescent boy five years younger than you will turn today.
It’s true that we’re a mess sometimes, and that the horrors of Hiroshima happened but 70 years ago and could happen again. But we need not be defined by those horrors, nor by our continued potential to enact them.
Even for a 12-year-old, there’s no escaping the moral seriousness of up to 166,000 people in a dense urban landscape killed in a blast of epic proportions. The lucky ones were incinerated instantly, the worse-off watching their skin sizzle and slough off them with few others in position to offer even pity, much less medical assistance. Reading along, you can’t help but place yourself, your parents, your brother and sisters in the same scene and ask, “How could this be; how can human beings do this to each other?”
I think humans have been asking that rhetorical question for a very long time now, and we are destined to ask it for a very long time to come.
On the bright side, 70 years have now passed with multiple nations in possession of this ultimate weapon, and no one has used it since. Many have been tempted, but we have thus far been spared either because cooler heads with too much terrible knowledge of the weapon’s consequences have thought the better of it, or else it just hasn’t (yet) fallen into the hands of the sufficiently hateful and reckless souls who would use it without hesitation or regret, if only they could.
And of course, the last part of that sentence above is the dark side—one my generation has thus far escaped while now having the bulk of our lives behind us. That means the bigger, more urgent burden of that fear now belongs to yours.
I am pretty certain every generation rolls its collective eyes at its immediate predecessor—if not all generations that have come before—in pretty much the same fashion that you roll your eyes at me these days for transgressions I can barely fathom. People were duller and dumber before we came along, is how the new generation’s narrative usually goes. And from the old person’s side: Things were better and purer then, and kids these days just don’t have any respect.
All those things are true to some degree. Whenever I look about the world and see terrorists and racists and ignorance and seemingly intractable, grinding poverty, I am tempted to think we’ll never figure this thing out, and I feel a pang of guilt for the world we’re handing to you.
But then I manage to hit some kind of internal reset button that takes me back a mere 150 years, when slaves were being bought and sold and whipped and killed in American cities, with the law completely behind their oppressors. A mere 50 years ago, those slaves’ descendents weren’t allowed on buses or bathrooms where white people trod.
Yes, African-Americans are still being killed and compromised, as recent history has all too painfully revealed. But not indiscriminately, not as pieces of property, not without the fierce rancor and outrage and solidarity they can and have been freely expressing through our legal and political system, joined by millions of white people who won’t stand for it anymore, either.
And yes, global warming threatens us with a kind of nuclear option of its own, but then I go back just within my own lifetime, when “recycling” wasn’t even a word and we burned our trash in backyard incinerators under skies we could barely see for all their pollution.
Danger is always close, dark storm clouds always hugging the ridge line. But they cannot obscure that we’ve accomplished a lot, come a long way in a short time, despite various forces pulling us in multiple directions, including the multiple distractions of the media age.
It’s quite remarkable, really, and both of us should savor it, and the life you have ahead of you, on this day.
And yes, you’re already smarter in some ways than we were. I admire your easy, unself-conscious mingling with races and sexual preferences and gender orientations across the spectrum, your seemingly natural acceptance of differences. I won’t say we didn’t help pave the way for some of that, but it’s refreshing to see it flower with such ease.
You will have your troubles, of course, as we have had ours. For all the progress we have made, we’re an unfinished animal, we humans are. It seems to me our unfinished nature is perfectly reflected in the many ways we have destroyed each other and continued to sow hate, sometimes outrageous and genocidal, other times subtle but still malevolent, even among people we know.
“The good that I try to do,” said the Apostle Paul…and we can let him trail off there because we know where he was headed.
I think I’ve spent my life seeking self-knowledge, only to come increasingly to the understanding that I still barely understand myself. I try very hard not to berate myself about that either, for it would merely compound the error.
The truth is that I am still learning, in a kind of perpetual infancy, about my inner emotional life, why I feel what I do, what those feelings might represent. Initial emotions about any given situation rarely tell the whole story. It takes vigilance to sort them out, and if I have learned anything, it is to pay close attention to emotions, but then be very, very patient and circumspect in waiting for them to reveal their depth, their contours and sources and reach.
Acting too fast on emotion alone is what helps give emotion a bad name, but allowing emotion to be our opening to and guide for our inner life is the truest path to whatever measure of self-understanding we can manage to achieve in this world. And as you can no doubt surmise, all of that helps you be more patient and circumspect with the emotional lives of others. Funny how that works.
I say this only to help you perhaps maintain that forgiving and patient and joyful place in your heart for yourself and all those around you in the ever larger but ever more connected human family. It’s true that we’re a mess sometimes, and that the horrors of Hiroshima happened but 70 years ago and could happen again. But we need not be defined by those horrors, nor by our continued potential to enact them.
Because right alongside them are such deep dimensions of love, such unparalleled potential for passion and beauty, as to both frighten and inspire you with their raw, as-yet-unformed power.
It’s a Hiroshima blast times 10, this power at the base of the human heart. At once the most destructive and constructive force you will ever know, the source of all you are and can yet be. I had a front row seat to it 17 years ago, and I have never forgotten its raw majesty and triumphant statement on behalf of all that is good and worthy in this world, a world it continues to be our duty and delight to love without reservation.
Just as I delight without reservation in the person steeped in love that you are ever becoming.
A priceless song from one of our more interesting (and under-appreciated) singer-songwriters, Loudon Wainwright III. Major Memory Lane moments watching and enjoying this!
On Facebook? This blog’s public page features daily snippets of wisdom and other musings from the world’s great thinkers and artists, accompanied by lovely photography. Consider it a 30-second mini-blog pick-you-up to start your day! http://www.facebook.com/TraversingBlog
Deep appreciation to the photographers:
Elizabeth Haslam, whose photos grace the rotating banner at the top of this page. Some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lizhaslam/
Rough seas photo by TruTourism, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/truplaces/
Might’ve been Grandma or Mom who snapped the baby pic and the other of me feeding Dakota sometime during our hospital stay. Dakota presented the latter to me as a Father’s Day gift, with her own personalized frame, a few weeks ago.