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Our frightening times

  • 08 November 2022
The other day I was told of a young man’s despair. It is a fact that there are a great many despairing people about, but I knew this man when he was a carefree little boy. Now he has two little boys of his own, and I have to hope that they are as carefree as they can be in their quite favourable circumstances.

But despite the family’s comfort and good fortune, the father of these children fears they have no future, that by the time they are grown up the world as we know it now will have ceased to exist. Floods, drought, wars, pandemics, climate change: the list grows daily. So I was not surprised to hear that actor William Shatner, Captain Kirk of TV’s famous Star Trek, burst into tears after being the oldest person (at 90) to experience space travel: it was the sight of the earth’s fragility that undid him.

I was not nearly old enough to be a parent when I began to worry. Perhaps I was 15, but of course we were living with the newish threat of the Bomb then. Was my fundamentalist grandmother worried? Not a bit; instead, she seemed to be pleased that prophecy was coming to pass, for the olive groves were beginning to flourish in Palestine. Being thrilled by symbolism and promise, she was not bothered by the fact that I was fast developing into a teenage insomniac.

My father tried to comfort me. ‘Every generation goes through this sort of thing,’ he said, and explained about how fearful people must have been when the longbow superseded the crossbow, when gunpowder was invented, and when the Black Death visited periodically. His father saw active service in the First World War, as Dad himself did in the Second, during which periods enormous populations endured protracted suspense as well as every sort of danger. The Spanish flu wrought a particular kind of havoc at the end of the First World War, and so did a prolonged polio epidemic not much later. In short, uncertainty and danger have always been an integral part of the human condition, but many people have managed to have meaningful and even happy lives despite these shadows.

My mother had her own mother’s conditioning, and so usually and usefully recommended a careful reading of Psalm 91 for any worried person, and I still read this work quite often and in