I was born in 1976. Not at the height of The Cold War — as it was more or less in its decline by then — but the world was still definitely in the thick of East vs West.
It was a scary time to grow up. There weren’t air raid drills in schools any longer by that point. but every school and every church had signs up about where to go in the event of a nuclear attack. By the time I was around six or seven I was well aware of the horrifying fact that Russia was our enemy, and that if they fired their weapons at us it would mean the end of the world.
My father talked about it a lot. Probably because he was frightened too. He would say that the governments knew how many people would survive an attack based on the number of shovels people owned. Because it was all down to how fast everyone could dig. I don’t know if that I was a joke or not. He said it a lot. It scared the crap out of me.
I would fantasize about successful summits between Reagan and Gorbachev, or of a force field that we could put up around our house in the event of a nuclear attack. I followed the real summits like they were ball games. I hoped and I prayed that cooler heads would prevail, that peace would come, that my family would be safe. It was a heavy burden for a kid to bear. And we all bore it. All of us. Like I said, it was a scary time. There were missiles pointed at us from submarines trolling along our coastlines.
And then, all of a sudden, it was over.
The Berlin Wall fell. The Soviet Union collapsed. And it was over. And I didn’t think about it any more. The fear dissipated. The world was all of a sudden a far less scary place.
But those years left a mark. Nuclear disarmament was still a passion of mine through college. The peace sign we all are familiar with that has become a meaningless pop culture symbol emerged from the anti-nuclear movement. It’s the semaphores for N and D placed on top of each other. Nuclear Disarmament. That’s what I see when I see the peace sign. That’s all that I see.
Despite the marks the Cold War left on me, however, I still basked in the safety of the world. I took it for granted, of course, like everyone did. But looking back I like to think that I understood that Pax Americana was a golden age of sorts. We were lucky enough to live in uninteresting times. And while that was boring. and left us a bit unmoored as a generation, we were still darn lucky and I like to think we knew it.
Then came 9/11. And endless war. Iraq. Afghanistan. Syria. Obama’s drones. Trump’s bungling of foreign policy. Mass shootings. Even then, though, the world felt pretty safe. Safe enough anyway. Here in St. Paul, Minn., the world at least didn’t feel like it was on fire. We went to tap rooms and rode bikes and traveled and lived our lives. It felt safe, even if it really wasn’t.
But, as well all know, that illusion of safety ended. A global pandemic came and millions died. George Floyd was murdered and people tried to burn down my city. January 6, 2021 happened. And last night Minnesota time Russian invaded Ukraine and this morning I woke up and it felt like the world was ending.
There’s that amazing scene in Wim Wenders’ “Until the End of the World.” When Claire and William Hurt are flying in the little prop plane over the Australian Outback and the US shoots down the Indian satellite and the plane’s engine shuts off and everything is quiet. “It’s the end of the world,” says Claire. And then that Peter Gabriel song “Blood of Eden” starts to play.
It’s a perfect scene. Absolutely brilliant. And this morning I felt like Claire: “it’s the end of the world,” I said to myself out loud, using her same inflections. I wrote it in the journal I’ve been keeping during my parental leave. I said it to the baby. I said it in text messages to friends. Because it truly felt like it. There I was on the floor with the baby in his play gym, holding his little wooden rattle, and thinking the world was ending. In a lot of ways it still feels that way. Not ending like “Station Eleven” ending, but ending as we know it, as we have come to know it, during these many, many years of peace, even if that peace was an illusion reserved for the lucky few privileged enough to live where I live. It is still ending. Everything I thought I cared about felt meaningless. All I could consider was that my perfect little baby would never know a time of safety and security like I knew.
There was never a guarantee that today would look like yesterday, or that tomorrow will look like today, but I had hoped the fantasy would continue at least for a little while longer.
During the height of the pandemic, when the world also felt like it was ending, I took comfort like I always do in cricket. Because the game has survived so much. This is its second pandemic. There were the two world wars where Europe dissolved into madness and millions upon millions died. The game soldiered on. It kept going through it all. A constant light in the storm that was the 20th century and beyond.
The world might be on fire, but cricket pays it no mind.
And today was no different. South Africa are playing New Zealand as I type. In three hours Bangladesh will play Afghanistan.
There is always cricket.
But this time feels different. This time it’s reckless Putin with a nuclear arsenal; and Chernobyl; and China’s in league with Russia; and autocrats the world over feeling emboldened; and all of us staring down a decades long conflict between East and West; all while America is slowly splitting apart at the seams.
This time it feels different. Part of me believes cricket doesn’t see the other side of this one. Our grip on stability is too tenuous. The center is collapsing. The whole world feels broken.
But I will keep looking for the light it brings. The metronome of the matches on the other side of the world reminding me just how big this planet is. The game an anachronism that’s been fighting against time and history since it started. A pastoral game invented at the height of the industrial revolution. Europe burning and Europe burning again. And still: all over the world, a coin is tossed, and people run out for a game of cricket. The same game that survived so much. There is hope in that, I guess, a smidgen of hope, and that’s more than I am finding elsewhere tonight.
The run up, the delivery, a ball through to the keeper, and do it again. On this side of the world or the other. Over and over again. As Europe burns, as the fires go out, as it burns again. The game is relentless in its persistence. And so, I guess, is this big giant sad old world of ours.
Hug your loved ones tonight.