The Very Small Child in the Very Perfect Storm

IMG_1933paulineSweater580If I had a grandfather from either parent (alas, I did not) to hold me on his knee as a toddler sixty-some years ago, he would have held such hope for me.

He would have known such pleasure to imagine little Freddie, son of his son or daughter, a grown man someday, with grandchildren of his own eventually, in a future of Perpetually Better Things.

His generation had purchased that blessed future by the Great War–at a terrible cost–but mankind would now harness the power of our genius for good–the Peaceful Atom would become a force for planetary benevolence and comfort.

The machinery of war would morph into the domesticated engine of unlimited commerce. Onward, upward, bigger, better! There could be no end to our efficiency and profit!

The planet of more-or-less civil nations, for all their fractiousness and squabbles, had at last become United. We would never allow despots to rule again.

Why just look at the World to Come, there in the early 50s! The young lad would grow up in the age of antibiotics and witness the conquest of communicable disease; of jet travel and two-car garages. He might even travel to other colonies on other planets.

He would certainly live until the turn of the millenium, when–who knows by then what marvels of science, technology and creative genius would shape our advanced and sophisticated civilization?

Good and productive work was available for everyone–even some lady-riveters from the war–and the Earth was bursting with minerals, forests, oceans and fertile soil to support 2.5 billion people. We couldn’t make a dent in what the world offered to provide as long as we demanded from it.

Life on Earth was finely balanced, Disney-wonderful, a Wild Kingdom of possibilities.

As my imaginary grandfather held me on his imaginary knee, he breathed a sigh of satisfaction, content that his generation had made the world fit for mine to live safe, healthy, sane and richly rewarding lives.

Someday, little Freddie would know the same joys, with his own grandchildren on his own aging knee. And so on, generation upon generation. Earth as cornucopia, The Future as sacred endowment.

Flash Forward.

Many of my age peers have small infants and toddlers in their extended families. Like me, they held them on their knee during the family holidays just past. You: this may be you I’m talking about here. Did you have this moment confronting tomorrow?

What did you in that sepia-tinted moment hope for that little warm and wiggly one? What is the distance between what you hope and what, in your heart of hearts, you honestly expect for them from their future world?

Can you hold at once in your mind the reality of that small human’s needs and wants and hopes and possible joys over his or her lifetime AND the full measure of challenge we have left them, the despoiled remnant of earth and nature and civilization from which we have taken and not given back?

Little Ollie smiled widely, perched on the arm of the loveseat next to me. He grabbed at my beard and laughed. He has no idea. He does not know. I felt such joy. And such remorse.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Time was that such notions would make me enthusiastic about a blog-based “Grandparents Legacy: Guidance for the Anthropocene” or some such aggregators of age peers united by such a realization and motive to action. Today…meh.

    And yet, the notion persists.

    In writing this, I felt the urge to just get it out–versus a more refined essay, poem or short story.

    It is a matter worthy of our consideration. And we can do more than stand slack-jawwed in the face of unalterable fate, at least at some local level of action.

    At some point, losing even more of my tiny audience, I’ll be more specific about this “perfect storm” seen from the vantage point of 45 years of biology-watching.

  2. Just keep on “doing the next right thing,” Fred. I learned this good aphorism of AA, and it keeps me on track moment to moment, and those moments will add up to a bigger “right thing.” I must have faith that this notion is correct.