"Nothing concentrates one's mind like the imminence of hanging."
— Samuel Johnson
Saturday proved disappointing for those anticipating the Rapture, but for the rest of us it served notice that we got a reprieve. I went to a Saturday matinee movie and decided that, if End Times were taking place outside when I left, I simply would re-enter the theater.
Reminders of mortality do focus the mind, however. What do we really want to do in the time still allotted? What hopes do we have in general for the period ahead?
On a personal level, I resolved once more to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. All the major national monuments, national parks, Civil War battlefields, and major European and American cities have been visited, galleries seen, and symphonies heard. Same for the best films. It truly is time to visit the mother ship in Cooperstown.
Aside from family and major professional satisfactions, I have gotten more daily pleasure from baseball than from any other pursuit. It all began in 1941, when I listened on radio with my mother to the Dodger-Yankee World Series in which Dodger catcher Mickey Owen famously dropped a third strike and cost the Dodgers the series. Beginning the following summer, and every summer since, I either played, watched, or otherwise followed the game — always with an intense rooting interest. I rooted for the underdog Dodgers, until they broke my heart too many times, and now have my hopes dashed annually by the Mariners.
In recent years I have visited the birthplaces and former homes of my parents and found it immensely satisfying. A few months ago I visited for the first time the small town in southern Saskatchewan where my parents lived for 20 years before hard times hit the prairie and they emigrated to Bellingham. There was the one-room school were my mother taught, the farmland my father worked, and the graves of my paternal grandparents, all seen for the first time.
On a less personal level, I yearn for the return of a sense of community to our country. There was a period — from the 1930s Great Depression through the civil rights and domestic-reform years of the mid-1960s — when we pulled together remarkably to save and perfect our society. Since then, we increasingly have been separated into contending partisan and ideological factions with little regard for civility or the larger common interest. The present domestic debt crisis may force us to once again work together, like it or not.
Internationally, I fear that we are falling into another period of active Wilsonianism, in which good intentions will lead us to intervene and meddle in other countries that we believe should be made in our own image. President Obama last week made a strong statement about U.S. policy in the Middle East and North Africa, in which he expressed our recurring desire to bring free economic and democratic political institutions to that part of the world. In the generality, it sounds good. In the specific, however, we will need to measure carefully our policies in regions and countries with histories and cultures unlike our own.
We presently are embroiled militarily in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, as we were previously in Vietnam — countries where the U.S. has no vital interest — in large part because of that Wilsonian missionary instinct. The emphases in the Obama policy for that region are quite similar, in fact, to the George W. Bush emphases, both flowing from our belief that we can play a central and ambitious role in creating change to our liking in the varied societies there. Greater restraint and humility would seem in order. We should more greatly perfect our own society before decreeing its replication elsewhere.
Here in Seattle, I continue to hope that the citizens of this highly educated, relatively fortunate city will take time from lifestyle pursuits to pay greater attention to local civic decisions having to do with the quality of our schools, the preservation of our environment, the balanced growth of our economy, and the priorities being pursued in the taxing and spending of our public money. This is a good place, but it can be maddeningly provincial and complacent in its civic life. We also need more citizens willing to step up for service in public office.
Perhaps these are not the Last Days after all. But it might be a good idea to conduct ourselves as if, truly, The End Is Near.