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Living at the End of Time

by Gale Warner

Like Fran Peavey's In-Between Time, Warner's piece was written near the end of the Cold War, another time when things were getting better and better and worse and worse, faster and faster. The resonances are fascinating: Wherever Warner refers to the nuclear issue, think Y2K and see how it fits. (Most of her references to specific US-Soviet relations have been edited out.)

Ours is a time of accelerating extremes. Never before has the danger been so great -- never before have the tools available to us to meet that danger been so powerful. As the darkness grows, so does the light; as the tools of darkness advance, the tools of light advance in step.

In every crisis in an opportunity. Perhaps only a threat as huge and all-encompassing as the threat of nuclear war could force people all over the world to communicate, to pay attention, to stretch themselves, to really try to understånd what is going on, to try to come to terms with our differences and figure out ways to live with each other, if not in utopian peace, at least a long way from the brink of holocaust.

The opportunity inherent in the nuclear crisis is that we are being forced as a species to grow up in a hurry. I sometimes think that nuclear arms are part of a kind of grand coming of age ritual - a test to see if we can move past adolescence into maturity. It's a terrifying test, and we may not pass. But it also makes this an exciting, vibrant time to be alive.

Unprecerdented numbers of people around the world are beginning to act. Each of them is trying in some innovative way to make an end run around the current stalemate in government. Each of them has made direct contact with people commonly considered The Enemy. Each believes that getting rid of the bombs is only half of the task before us; the other half is transforming relationships. The process of spinning those threads is already underway, and everyone can be a weaver.

One potential pitfall is to see such a solution as complex and therefore hopeless. It is complex, no doubt about it. Then again, so is walking. Complexity alone is no reason for despair. We don't always have to know exactly what we are doing as we are doing it. We only have to have a feeling for why.

Another pitfall is to believe that unless we can detect a definite change in the world as a result of what we are doing, we are failing. But the nature of change is subtle. What may seem at the time to be sweeping changes may be thoroughly temporary; what may seem to be so much headbeating against a wall may in fact be creating change in ways no one will ever be able to exactly trace. As Gandhi put it so beautifully, what each of us does may seem insignificant at the time, but it is terribly important that we do it. It could be that all the ingredients for a peaceful transition to a peaceful world are already around us, already simmering away nicely, and it is only our limited vision that prevents us from seeing this.

Personally, I don't trust peace scenarios that are neat and tidy. The world is too complicated, too influenced by the bizarrely coincidental for such blueprints. Too rigid an idea of where we're going can keep us from getting there. There are no magic recipes out there, no fixed solution we are heading toward. There is only something waiting to happen, a process to start participating in, principles to start living by.

I believe that a peaceful world is not a destination in a distant future where we might eventually arrive. I believe that it is all around us, at this very moment, and that every one of us, every day in our lives, catches some glimpse of it.

When asked how he had sculpted his famous statue of Moses, Michelangelo replied that Moses was trapped inside the marble, and all he had to do was to chisel away everything that didn't look like Moses. I think this is a beautiful image for the task before us. The world we would like to create is inherent in the rough-cut hunk of marble that is our world of today. It is up to each of us to learn how to heft a hammer and a chisel and chip away everything that is not part of a peaceful world.