I found out about this the other day while listening to Laura Erickson’s “For the Birds” on the radio. It has nothing to do with birds, but Laura ventures into philosophy now and again. This is what the internet and modern communication is supposed to do. It connects us to the wisdom from 600 years ago and reminds us of what is important to all human life.
Actually, the fear is not of tomorrow but of the day after, and that is its danger — for the fear of death can keep us from living.The essay was written in 1951 and begins with a reference to a book written as people were awakening from the nightmare of the Black Death and beginning to experience the Renaissance. It talks about what to do in the face of such destruction and relates it to the fear of the time when it was written, nuclear annihilation. In the 14th century, people hid out in abandoned mines. In the 20th century, they cached weapons and fuel and built compounds in the wilderness in Oregon. For some today, they just stay home and don’t engage with the rest of the world. All of these are choosing death while they are still alive.
If you knew you were to die day after tomorrow, what would you do tomorrow? Only one answer has ever been sensible: Just what I would do if I did not know — go to the office, take the children to the park, go on with the job, get married, buy the house, have a baby.
People still respond by hiding and isolating themselves. If anything, we’ve just expanded what we fear. We fear the modern medicine and modern farming that was supposed to fix the problems of disease and starvation. We fear the government that was created in response to unchecked monarchies. We fear we are being lied to by the institutions that are supposed to offer us access to information so we stop trying to figure what is true. We build virtual walls by shutting out the voices of people not like us and by ignoring our neighbors.
This may all seem like a downer, but DeVoto offers an answer, perhaps “the answer”, an answer that is repeated throughout history in stories and poetry.
The link is to Laura’s blog. It expands on the quotes I’ve put here. It further links to the complete article by Bernard DeVoto.