I remember walking into the Catholic college where I hung out between my university classes. And sometimes instead of classes. It was a big, old, creaky-floored building and you could almost always count on finding a friend to talk to.
It was November 1980, the day after the US election. The day after Ronald Reagan won. And we knew it meant the end of everything.
The Cold War was raging on and old Ronny, he seemed way too eager to push the button. He didn’t seem to understand that it was real, that real people would really die. Fear rode heavy on my chest.
Walking into the college building, I bumped into my best friend. We stared at each other in disbelief. We hugged. There were tears. The place, usually loud with the shouts and laughter of a rambunctious bunch of late-teens/early-twenties students was silent. Stunned. “Do you believe it?” we asked each other quietly. “What’s going to happen?” There were more hugs. And tears. And, because it was the Catholic college, we went to mass and prayed.
We didn’t expect the world to survive till the next Spring, let alone long enough for us to graduate, fall in love, maybe start families.
I lived in Windsor then, right across the river from Detroit, target number one in a nuclear war. And that saying, ‘close only counts in horseshoes’ was always amended by Windsorites to add ‘and nuclear bombs’.
We were so afraid. All the time. Lying in bed, heart racing, wondering if the car you just heard backfire was the beginning of the end. Not wanting to listen to the news, but then wondering what you’d missed. We wanted to see it coming if he was going to end it all for us.
But spring came. And I fell in love. Some of my friends graduated and another election loomed and we thought he’d be gone because who would vote for a war-mongering evil…. ? And then he had term two and I thought, well, we survived the first one. Maybe?
And we did. Four more springs. A few friends had babies. Some went back for more school. The bombs didn’t fall on us. Horrors happened in other parts of the world. And we attended protests. There’s a newspaper photo of my Mum and Dad, wearing black armbands at a rally to protest the atrocities in El Salvador. We boycotted. We prayed.
And then his term ended and the world was still here. Shaken. Scarred. But still here. And the wall came down and the Cold War ended and even Nelson Mandela got out of jail and I know that was not to do with the Cold War, but it was a really good day and I like to remember it.
Years later, my Mum and I were talking about that time and I told her how scared I had been, that had I fully expected to die by nuclear holocaust. And she was surprised. ‘Really?’ she said. ‘I had no idea.’
‘Well, weren’t you scared?’ I asked.
She wasn’t. The bombs falling in her life at the time were much more personal and didn’t leave her with time or strength to catastrophize every bump in the night.
I know things seem bad right now. And they are. So we hug. And there are tears. We protest and boycott. We fall in love, have babies, go back to school. We pray. We respond to fear with love. We respond to hate with love. We respond to our differences with love. In fact, let’s respond to everything with love.
Spring will come.