My sleepless night is not important. It hasn’t any earth-shaking repercussions. I will survive it. But, it shouldn’t have happened!
During my childhood in America there was an air raid siren on top of the neighbourhood school. Every once in a while someone tested it to make sure it was still working but, as far as I know, they hadn’t warned those of us who lived close enough to hear it and it really worried us, particularly my sister, Judy.
Life in 1950’s Ohio, for little white children and their families, was pretty good as far as I remember. We weren’t rich but we weren’t poverty stricken either. Our mother had decided to study architecture at the University of Cincinnati and our step-father was also studying part-time. There was enough money for our mother to hire a ‘baby sitter’ who came every day, mainly to look after Jennie who was still quite young but also, I guess, to make sure we were home from school at 3:30 and not running riot. The only ‘war’ we knew was between our mother and her husband which was quite worrying really but there were no bombs, grenades and guns involved and on the whole, we were safe.
In the world in general, there were all sorts of things going on. There was the Korean War which didn’t seem to have any effect on us and something called the ‘Cold War’ which we definitely didn’t understand. Towards the end of the 50’s, though, when I was in my early mid teens, I started to realise that the ‘Reds’ was not only the nickname for our city’s baseball team but also the nickname of a group of people also known as ‘the commies’ who, it was thought, were dangerous and might just drop the A bomb or even the H bomb on us.
That worried me. Once in a while I’d lie awake wondering what would it be like if the air raid sirens went off, followed by a big explosion. Would we live through it, only to have radiation sickness? What would that be like? Would we mutate into monsters? My thoughts on the subject made me feel hot and cold and sick and I would lie awake worrying, wondering if it would happen that night and, like that prayer* children said at bedtime, my soul would have been ‘taken’ by the Lord.
*(Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.)
(I always thought that this prayer was horrible…..what child wants to die before they wake up? Thinking of dying in my sleep, as a child, was another thought that made me lie awake, worried about dying. We weren’t a religious family and weren’t made to pray before bed but we sort of picked these ideas up from friends, books, or tv. Perhaps if we had been church goers we would have been comforted by the thought that ‘the Lord’ would look after us but we weren’t. As an aside I will say that I did go to church regularly but that was because I had joined the church choir.)
Happily, the older I got the less likely it was that there would be a nuclear war – until 2022, when a certain Russian ex-KGB officer with a guaranteed life-long position as the head of state, threatened to use some of his vast stockpile of nuclear weapons if people « in the west » helped Ukraine in the war he started with that country.
So, I have spent nights awake, worrying, recently, not so much about me and dying (at 79 I’m quite used to the thought – I don’t want to go but I can think of worse things!), but about the terrible things that are happening to people whose lives were rather like mine until recently. They went with their partners to the local shops and bought goods for their homes, worried about their children, looked forward to the next instalment of their favourite tv show, hoped they wouldn’t get covid, cried because their boyfriend fancied someone new or whatever and suddenly, just when they should have been getting ready to greet spring, even in the cold weather, they have been assaulted, lied about, chased from their homes, lost loved ones, found themselves in foreign countries or imprisoned, learned how to shoot and to kill another human being (something many of us have no desire to do!).
It’s about a month since I started writing this post. In that time I (and others around the world) have been told that I’ve got it all wrong, that everything I’ve read and seen has been ‘fake news’, that I should read such and such a newspaper or watch this particular tv channel; that Mr Putin isn’t having his soldiers kill civilians, isn’t trying to annex the whole of another, separate country, isn’t trying to rebuild the Soviet Union, and that ‘the West’ has been at fault over the years, trying to influence people towards their way of thinking. The real war isn’t a war at all, we’re told….it’s an operation to get rid of the Nazis who have taken over Ukraine.
It’s all crap! It’s people! More than 5 million people have run away, some of them ending up in a foreign country without their small child who died on the way or who was in the way of a bullet or a piece of shrapnel. How many others have been ambushed as they were trying to leave, bombed as they were sitting in a hideout with CHILDREN written in huge letters outside, been at the receiving end of a missile as they lay in labour in hospital, have been raped then stabbed to death or been shot down when trying to find food or water?
How can I sleep when others can’t? If I were young and brave I might have done something more to help besides give some money or old clothes, but I sit here tapping on my iPad, eating fresh food, and watching fiction on tv or reading or painting so that I can forget the terrible things that people are doing to other people in a land so far away – and yet so near.