Classic Greek playwrights resorted to solving humanly unsolvable situations in their plays by calling on the gods to save them. (Deus Ex Machina – literally “God from the Machine”). This provided an out for the gods, who always had a hand in creating the problem in the first place, as well as a way of saving face for the humans who couldn’t help themselves.
It allowed for a resolution of the conflict as well as neatly tying up any loose ends. The audience could leave satisfied with an evening of entertainment and the knowledge that all’s well that ends well. (Theater historians please cut me some slack. I know I am mixing Greeks with Shakespeare!)
I am not sure whether the gods have abandoned us, or the stage manager has left the building, but I seriously doubt that there will be a quick and easy resolution to the production currently playing out in Ukraine right now. The reality is that there is no Deus ex Machina for this tragedy; only suffering.
Keeping Track of Time
I keep a five-year diary. I have done so for 15 years. It helps me remember the big things and the little things and shows me what I have chosen to pay attention to. I find many entries have to do with weather. Others seem to focus on getting my needs met: going to a doctor, tracking weight gain and loss, shared events with friends.
There are also notations of more impactful events happening on the world stage. Politics, social protests, and now war. Two years ago, according to my diary, I was in Honolulu. I did a tour of Pearl Harbor. The entry was brief, but the memory is so vivid.
It was another time that humanity was shocked at what one country was doing to another. It was another time where regular people died as a consequence of the power plays and ego-driven desires of dictators.
Then and Now
December 7 may have been a day of infamy, but it was not the first time we were caught off guard. It was not the first time people lost their homes, their business, and their lives because of war. What was it about that particular attack that rallied the arsenal of democracy and gave rise to the vanquishing of Hitler, Hirohito, and Mussolini?
We were so shocked in 1941. We were shocked because nobody had ever dared to attack us like that. Yet, it was not as if America and the rest of the world were ignorant of the incursions being made by the Japanese Empire, and Nazi Germany. It was not as if Black Shirts, Brown Shirts, and Reds were hidden. Even in the face of credible reports of mass evacuations, bombing of civilians, decimation of sacred temples and slaughter of innocents, somehow we didn’t think it could happen to us.
Far Enough Away
As long as it is happening “Over There”, the impact on my life is relatively small. When it is happening “To Me”, the balance point shifts. This notion of proximity has changed enormously with the rise of social media. At one time, journalists shared information through radio or print. Movie goers watched Fox Movietone News while waiting for the latest Charlie Chaplin silent film. Edward R. Murrow’s voice was broadcast from London during the Blitz.
We empathized from the safety and comfort of our living rooms and movie theaters. We planted Victory Gardens and ran blood drives. We crafted legislation to share liberty ships and helped save Democracy. It was easier to be patriotic as long as our blood wasn’t being spilled.
You Would Think We Would Know Better
You would think we would not be shocked about our current situation, having grown up with “tuck, duck, and cover” as protection against nuclear war. You would think we would have more sense, having lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, when Nikita Khrushchev flexed Soviet muscles. You would think we would have said something to try and stop Putin, having listened to Walter Cronkite read the death toll from Viet Nam on the nightly news.
What have we been doing for the last 22 years? How deeply have our heads been stuck in the sand? We are once again being threatened with annihilation at the hands of a “madman”. The absurdity of our situation is almost indescribable. Who wouldn’t have seen this coming?
Sending Thoughts and Prayers
It is no longer sufficient to just send thoughts and prayers or post supportive emojis on Twitter and hashtags on Instagram. Our vulnerability lies in our denial. We have become used to quick resolutions and no longer have much capacity or stamina for drawn-out loose ends. Instead, we distract ourselves with any number of toys, ploys, and numbing agents.
Maybe the gods are trying to get our attention. Maybe we needed an arch enemy that we could touch and see rather than the invisible microbe that has threatened us for the last two years in order to muster the energy necessary to fundamentally change how we are living.
We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us
Walt Kelly, the cartoonist who created Pogo, certainly knew what he was doing back in 1970. His turning of the phrase brought home to so many of us the poignancy of understanding that we are shitting in our own home. We have created the very thing that will be our cause of death. We are now faced with the consequences of power and greed that remains unchecked by morality and values. If you think this is happening only in Kyiv and Leviv, you are not paying attention.
The names may sound foreign, but the emotions and experiences are shared by all of us. Fear that those we love will be hurt or killed. Fear that we will have to leave our homes, never to return. Fear that we will be taken prisoner. Fear that there will not be enough of whatever it is that we need.
We are seeing it happen before our eyes. We know how this script turns out. We have the opportunity and the responsibility to change the outcome. We must become the gods we hope will extricate us from our dilemma. We must take a stand against greed and corruption and, as Martin Luther King taught, remember that, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”