Hope. It’s hard to hang onto right now, but what’s the alternative? That was the gist of Michelle Obama’s message in an interview with Oprah a few weeks before Christmas. Over the holidays, I tried to hide from the gloom, but wasn’t strong enough to eschew my news feed entirely. In a weak moment I clicked on a New Yorker piece by Eric Schlosser—World War Three by Mistake. It threw me back to a childhood terror I had almost forgotten.
When I was about 14 and shortly after one of the times the world, according to Schlosser, nearly went thermonuclear by accident, I had a reoccurring nightmare. I dreamt about the beginning of the end. Night after night, I watched mushroom clouds bloom in the distance. I never woke up soon enough, and always with my heart still hammering and my body chilled, pooled in cold sweat. It is still the most terrifying dream I have ever had.
That a teenager would suffer from an underlying angst about the end of time in the early 1980s is hardly surprising. I’m just grateful that back then, Ativan weren’t yet the pharmacological equivalent of Smarties. Despite the release of Ordinary People, child psychology was still rather frowned upon as a silly indulgence of the neurotic and the obscenely rich. So when I finally told my father about what troubled me, instead of bundling me off to therapy, he simply told me not to worry. He was also genuinely surprised that I would fret at all about that sort of thing. If the world didn’t end with Hitler, or later, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, he reasoned, then it sure as hell wasn’t going to end now. And he turned back to his newspaper.
My father was born in 1935 in Chatham, Kent. His childhood included the terror of buzz bombs and blackouts. This lends English people of his generation a reassuring sang-froid. Think Michael Caine or Judi Dench. At least, they are reassuring to me. So I listened to him, and the dreams, though they continued, no longer consumed my waking hours with a clutching fear the way they once had.
The dreams are back. I am resisting the grown-up allure of Ativan, and choose instead to find my inner fulcrum, somewhere between Chicken Little and Happy the Dwarf. So, along with Paul Krugman’s depressing 2017 message America Becomes a Stan, I also take heart in Rebecca Solnit’s belief that Trump will be resisted. Even as Trump blithely tweets about ICBMs as though he and Kim Jong Un were two 12-year-olds sharing insults across a Catan board, I think about the upcoming Women’s March on Washington, and how it could breathe new life into American feminism. I am reassured by the GOP failure to eliminate the ethics office. I am trying hard for hope.
On the first day of 2017, Kim and I decided to do something fun together, something simple. We went to the movies to see Rogue One. We were both unexpectedly moved by the last line, eerily delivered by a CGI-rendered Princess Leia, five days after Carrie Fisher’s death.
© 2017, Kate Barker. All rights reserved.