When I was 8 years old the Soviets occupied Czechoslovakia. My grandmother, who, having witnessed two world wars, lived the rest of her life in anticipation of the third one.
When the tanks rolled to the streets of Prague, she took me to a toy store and bought me a little doll. Now it begins, she said. They will come here next. I believed her. I did not know what exactly it was that was about to begin but out of the collective anxiety that surrounded me I concluded that it must be bad. It must be doomsday-bad.
I could never play with the doll.
The Soviets didn’t invade my country. The third world war did not begin. Things in Czechoslovakia took a turn to worse but for the rest of us it was life as usual.
I started my school in 1966 and finished it in 1978. These years were shadowed by the Cold War. I lived 140 miles from the heinous dictatorship called the Soviet Union, that my dad had fought against in WWII. There was also the constant fear of someone pressing the “button” and starting a nuclear war. A few times we got close to war. But it never started.
No one ever pressed the button, no matter how frozen the cold war got, but that did not stop us from being afraid someone would.
I got so used to living in fear that when the monstrous Soviet Union came down as a pierced balloon, taking the entire Eastern block with it, I was unable to rejoice. I felt totally blank. Is this how things always end, I asked. Not with a bang but with a whimper?
The 70´s were also an era of energy crisis. We will run out of oil, they told us. The political situation in the Middle East, where much of our oil came from, got turbulent. And then the Iranian revolution happened, followed by a new wave of global panic. We were told to save energy and we did. We learned to switch off lights and to avoid cooking in ovens. We prepared ourselves for a dark and cold future. Turned out it was a false alarm. We would not run out of oil after all and we could survive even without the Iranian oil resources.
Life went back to normal. Again.
In the early 80´s, when I studied in University, they discovered a new reason for global worry. AIDS. People went bonkers. Was this it, the final curse that would destroy our entire species? To say that people freaked out was an understatement. You could get the virus just by shaking hands with a HIV positive person, they told us. Parents did not let their kids go to school. HIV positive people could not work in restaurants or anywhere they would get in touch with the “healthy”. Homosexuals were treated like leprosy patients in the middle-ages. People were shocked and disgusted.
And very very worried.
The AIDS outburst caused a lot of pain on individual level. The patients died of horrible diseases, often alone and ostracized. But the global panic soon disappeared from whence it came from: from our need to blow things out or proportion whenever the opportunity rises.
In 1990 I got pregnant with my second child, when another global disaster was in the making: The Gulf War.
The tabloids made the most of its potential, fueled by Saddam Hussein’s rhetoric. The Mother Of All Battles was to begin. The Kuwaiti oil wells would be set on fire by the Iraqi, causing an unprecedented environmental disaster. The smoke from the burning oil wells would block the sun and a nuclear winter would begin. It would be the end of all life as we knew it.
My son was born August 2nd in 1990, the day Iraq invaded Kuwait. I looked at my newborn with sorrow. What had I done by bringing an innocent child into a world with no future?
The Gulf War was as nasty as wars are but it could hardly be called the Mother of them. There would be others, like the Bosnian war that was every bit as awful if not even worse. Also, we experienced no nuclear winter. While many lives ended in the hideous wars, the world did not come to end this time either.
Since the Gulf War there have been many hassles of global scale. There was the SARS and Ebola and the chicken flu and swine flu. There was 9/11. The war on terror goes on. People die in mindless acts of violence, fueled by bigotry and ignorance and utter frustration.
Yesterday a new president was elected in the USA, one who, as many fear, will propel our lives into chaos.
I do not know what the future brings but after all I have experienced in my 57 years of life, I would like to bet that it will be alright. We will survive.
Because, you see, we always have.