By Emily Erickson
Living in the world of late feels like being strapped into a roller coaster with only a few boards in front of the ride visible, the rest shrouded in a murky unknown. As the safety bar closes over our heads and the latches click shut, we’re locked into a trajectory that feels anything but secure. The ride rumbles forward, and all we can do is grip, white-knuckled, leaning into the turns and bracing ourselves for a possible drop.
Following coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, watching people’s lives fall out from under them in real-time, I’m incessantly aware of the fragility of the existence we create for ourselves. Trivial things like, “They were out of oatmilk at the store,” and, “My car wouldn’t start this morning,” can quickly turn into, “Should I stay and fight for my future or leave everything behind in the hopes of creating a new one?”
Anger over the price of gas or pining after a job promotion can shatter, being replaced by an all-consuming desire for safety and the logistics required to create it.
As I watch civilians queue up for firearms, shaking in fear and bolstered by duty, their titles shift from “teacher,” “computer programmer” and “office manager” to “soldier,” and the futures they envisioned for themselves and their families turn myopic — survivalist.
Listening to sound bites of people arranging their escape from their homes, their voices are heavy and tired, forever changed by the magnitude of the choices they’re being forced to make.
All of the coverage of this war, and the nature of Russia’s relationship to the rest of the world, makes the conflict feel a lot closer than 7,000 miles away. Having notifications flash on my screen with headlines like, “Russia-Ukraine live updates: 3rd world war would be nuclear,” and, “Ukrainian Fighters Battle to Hold Capitol,” all while going about life as usual, creates dissonance, with the unprecedented clashing against the mundane.
Standing in line for coffee, my pondering of medium or dark roast is disrupted by questions about the reach of a nuclear bomb (seven miles of high-impact) and the quantity of nuclear weaponry possessed by Russia (about 6,000 warheads — the largest such arsenal in the world). While folding laundry, thoughts about what I’d take with me if I had to leave at a moment’s notice (pets, clothes, food and water, headlamp, phone charger) break into my consciousness.
These disruptions feel like a falling away of the veil of ignorance — the belief that we had evolved past the threat of global warfare being understood as arrogance rather than reality.
Arrogance is what made me think of this generation of humans, responsible for cryptocurrency, artificial intelligence, augmented reality and TikTok, as incapable of descending into global warfare — as if our advancements were a shield against widespread war-related destruction.
Arrogance is what made me think of us as different than the generations before us; the generations responsible for enabling human flight, for creating industry, transportation and infrastructure — who all watched the products of their innovation turn into apparatuses for destruction.
As I scroll through videos of dogs licking peanut butter off the camera lens, I’m also served clips of children being cared for in bomb shelters, of tanks rolling into city centers, of civilians brandishing weapons and people protesting for peace, all stark reminders of the connection I share with the humans that came before me.
War and destruction and loss are baked into the patterns of our evolution; lessons we seem destined to learn over, and over again.
But, the theory of learning is that lessons are more akin to spirals than straight lines; that we do not simply arrive at the finish line of knowing, rather, can only get deeper into our comprehension. As we descend into this spiral — this lesson that war causes irreparable damage, that it brings out the worst and the best in us, and that its ripples extend far beyond the fields of battle on which it’s waged — I only hope we deepen our understanding of the preciousness of life, love and peace.
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