Our Collapsing World

We live in a col­laps­ing world.

icon_collasping-world-mdb_16-07-26_200Per­haps the world has always been col­laps­ing in one way or anoth­er and it is only the sur­feit of infor­ma­tion that makes the col­lapse seem so immi­nent now. I know only that, even as I wake each morn­ing into grat­i­tude for this life I have been gift­ed, I also wake into a gut-deep knowl­edge of disaster:

A polit­i­cal sys­tem implod­ing, our ten­der globe’s cli­mate wild­ly dis­or­dered; a renewed nuclear arms race (so it’s now small arms, it’s still nuclear!); racial injus­tice so old a sto­ry that we should have wept our­selves dry by now; big mon­ey con­trol­ling every­thing, every­thing, everything.

I wake into this col­laps­ing world, then sit down at my desk and attempt to write anoth­er sto­ry for chil­dren. Don’t mis­un­der­stand. I’m not sug­gest­ing that’s a triv­ial task. I can think of few that are more impor­tant. Because the func­tion of sto­ry — all sto­ry — is to make mean­ing. And mean­ing that we make for chil­dren lasts.

But what mean­ing fits today’s disasters?

In 1972 when the Water­gate scan­dal occu­pied the news, my own two chil­dren were eight and ten, just com­ing into an aware­ness of the larg­er world. And to dis­cov­er that their country’s lead­ers were behav­ing like the worst school­yard bul­lies dis­il­lu­sioned them beyond words. What I said to them, again and again, as we lis­tened to the lat­est reports, was “Look! Our sys­tem works. The Pres­i­dent had to step down.”

I wish I could say the same to my grand­chil­dren. “Look! Our sys­tem works.”

But if I can’t say that, what can I say?

To begin with I will not offer what I’ve heard pre­sent­ed too often to young peo­ple: “Okay. We failed. It’s your world now. Fix it.” I can think of few more dis­cour­ag­ing mes­sages to begin a life on.

And I will not tell them that we are all beyond hope, even if some­times hope is dif­fi­cult to name. Because, for all our fail­ures, hope has changed this world in aston­ish­ing ways in my life­time, and I will not lose hold of it now.

I will be hon­est, but in my hon­esty I will also be gen­tle, car­ing. Because truth with­out gen­tle­ness, with­out car­ing can be a blud­geon. And I will write pri­mar­i­ly about what mat­ters most, all the ways we try and fail and try again to love one another.

If I make that strug­gle the core of all I say, I will nev­er run out of sto­ries, because the strug­gle to love is the strug­gle to be human.

And if the strug­gle to be human lies at the cen­ter of every sto­ry I send into this col­laps­ing world, I may yet save a few souls … my own included


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Jane Heitman Healy
7 years ago

Beau­ti­ful, Mar­i­on. The pow­er of sto­ry, the pow­er of hope.

Marion Dane Bauer
Reply to  Jane Heitman Healy
7 years ago

Thank you, Jane.

David LaRochelle
7 years ago

Love, kind­ness, hon­esty, hope…these traits will always help us sur­vive, and sto­ries are a great way to pass along these ideals. Thank you for your beau­ti­ful essay.