The other day I came across an old CBS Omnibus film clip of the author William Faulkner giving a commencement address for the local high school graduation at Oxford Mississippi in the spring of 1951. In this speech he talked about fear and he mentioned the atomic bomb among other fearful things and he admonished the young people to stand up to fear of all kinds and to be...well, to be "fearless". I remember the fifties clearly and what I remember the most is the fear and anxiety over the possibility and even the probability of the "Rooskies" dropping the bomb on my poor little head. It was an era of paranoia and anxiety, a tragedy of universal fear. In the last one hundred years much of mankind has usurped many of the powers that we used to ascribe to God. Fearful and unprepared, we have assumed leadership over the life and death of the whole world and all living things. The irony is that all of the creatures on Earth it is only the humans who are mortal. All of the other creatures are immortal for they know nothing about death. We are blessed with powerful minds yet at the same time cursed, not only to die, but to know that we must, and the fear of a violent death is our greatest anxiety.
I am not exempt from that anxiety by any means. I have spent at least half of my life gripped in its clutches. I remember going to mass one particular Sunday morning with my parents when I was about ten years old. This was at the time the U.S.S.R had launched Sputnik and we tracked its ominous signal going beep, beep, beep as it passed overhead. Our parish priest went up in the pulpit that day and shouted down at us "If an atomic bomb falls on this parish tonight at least fifty percent of you will wake up in Hell!". Needless to say that got everyone's attention, even the snoozers. There was a line of penitents going halfway around the block for the next two days waiting their turns to make an honest and sincere confession.
To my mind the present level of anxiety in the United States is at an unprecedented level and I can't help but think that the roots of this anxiety go back to a time when impending doom was imprinted on the minds of young innocent children to the point that it has led to the present state of tension and discord. Take a look at the civil defense film below titled "Duck and Cover". Most of the people who are currently sixty years old or older will remember it. Can you imagine something like that being shown to children today? On second thought, maybe it wouldn't bother them at all. I suppose that the dissonance between our digital selves and our analog bodies has thrown us older folks into a new state of anxiety...present shock. Things are happening so fast that the future is always NOW.
So NOW I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
And if I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
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