Albert Camus wrote sorrow into his political and social commentary. I decided to give it a try. It’s not hard to do.
In the 1980s, I had lunch almost daily with people whose work was all about worrying about the world—its violence and its peace, its injustices, its mercies. One of our number was my close friend, Wes, who by then was an old man, though he rarely mentioned age. It was when he died a year or two late that we discovered he was 79.
During one particular lunch, we were comparing our visions of the future. “Seven years,” he said. “I give it seven years before nuclear war erupts.” I tried to argue, but really, what debate points could I have put up? The Cold War was still raging.
I forgave Wes most things. He was a lovely friend. But I never quite forgave him his prophesy. It was easy for him, I thought. He was unlikely to live that many more years. But what about the rest of us?
Now, I’m faced with my own waning years. The world is in critical condition and, as in the past, what is most threatening is mostly ignored. We the people and our leaders argue about politics and economics and call each other ugly names, at the same time as many of us deny the world is dying and others of us hold our breath and hope that it won’t, that the climate won’t heat up quite so quickly as it seems it is, that the rivers aren’t all that poisonous, that our ravaging of the earth won’t mean the end for this lovely, lovely planet.
I look at the younger people around me and feel sad, and guilty. Wes’ nuclear war didn’t happen. I hope an environmental apocalypse won’t happen. But we’re leaving a deeply wounded world to our children and children’s children. And most of us, not enough of us, aren’t paying all that much attention.