Saturday, February 21, 2009

SEVERN SUZUKI DID NOT INVENT DOOMSDAY

“In my life, I have dreamt of seeing the great hearts of animals, jungles and rainforests full of birds and butterflies, but now I wonder if they will even exist for my children to see.” The then twelve year old daughter of Dr. David Suzuki, Severn Suzuki, then asked,

“Did you have to worry about those little things when you were my age?

No Severn, I didn’t, actually. I only had to worry about living long enough to see out the end of the week. You see, my twelfth birthday came on October 14, 1962. Smack in the middle of the Cuban missile crisis. Every day and every night we were riveted to our tiny TV sets in our tiny working class homes on the poor east side of Vancouver, a world away from the upscale west side of town you grew up in, where celebrity environmentalists oblivious to our hardship travel about to scold us for over-consumption. As you will read in the following testament, my generation too, had its “little things” to worry about.

THE GENESIS OF A CAVE-DWELLER

My life as a cave-dweller really began during the cold war while I was in my mother’s womb. Our house had the misfortune of being situated just two blocks from the air raid siren on the water tower that dominated the hill, which was in fact a 750 foot mountain.

Like a Pavlovian dog I was trained to drop everything, turn and run in full flight for home when that siren went off, and it went off randomly about once or twice a week for the first dozen years of my life. At times I felt that I was living in a firehall, except I never was guaranteed a block of four days respite with union pay.

Most of the time I kept within a five minute sprint of home base, but when I started kindergarten at age five, I was three blocks away down the hill, and had to content myself with taking cover under one of Mrs.Yorston’s desks, along with the other children. In September of 1955, just one month shy of my sixth birthday, I had to make the long one mile trek down the other side of the mountain to the elementary school to Grade One. I was so terrified of being that far away from my mother’s protection that she accompanied me to school everyday for the first ten days and actually sat in the classroom with me. When the siren finally went off, the teacher, Mrs.Gillespie, had all the kids hide under the desks just as in kindergarten. But somehow, I felt safer with my mother there as an added psychological buffer.

A year later I was walking home from school with my neighbour and girlfriend Daphne, whom I had promised to marry. We had managed to get within just two blocks from home when that damned siren went off again. We ran for our lives. By the time she reached her mother she was in hysterics. Welcome to the 1950s. The Golden Era.

I managed to hold it together until my twelfth birthday, which I sincerely thought was going to be my last. October 14, 1962. Yes, I truly believed, along with most of my classmates and I surmised, many adults, we were all going to die very soon. The Cuban missile crisis. This was it. 9/11 Terrorism.Y2K. Bird Flu. Al Gore’s Global Warming were a piece of cake. Nothing in life will ever match the feeling of despair and doom of those ten days in October of 62. For most of my boyhood I begged my parents to build a bomb shelter. But sensibly, they refused to build one. They had many reasons. But their main one was, “What if we are the only ones with a shelter and the bombs drop--- are you going to keep your friends out--- can you keep them out?”

I never realized how the Nuclear Terror affected me until about a year ago, that’s right, four decades later, when I observed my dog Barney. That requires an explanation.

As a boy, I would frequently do a disappearing act. My mother would call me without success and then two brothers, a father and two grandparents would scour the house and the yard looking for me. Invariably they would find me sleeping in a cupboard or a drawer with a pillow or blanket even when I was as old as nine years. My father would not build a bomb shelter, so apparently I would find a place that would give me that feeling of safety.

Barney, I notice, is much the same way. I offer him the very best and most capacious of three different beds. But when I turn my back I often find him curled up in the cramped , dark confines of the back of my car where he feels it is safe and cozy. The first seven months of his life were spent in a crate like that.

To this day I must sleep in the inner most recesses of the house, in the basement, in the darkest room, with the windows covered with cardboard and foam to block out the light. I feel threatened by light, brightness and brilliant sunshine---a nuclear blast is my definition of hell. “Gloomy” landscapes inspire comfort. The venues of the Bronte novels, dark stately manors, overcast skies that shadow dark moors also soothe me. There is also nothing that tempts me more than a trail through a dark forest. The Munsters were the first normal family I ever saw on television. When I arrived on Quadra my doctor suggested that I buy a special lamp from the drug store to counter-act SADS (depression) during the winter. On the contrary, I really need a dark shroud to cover the house to combat depression during the summer. Or better still, build a bomb shelter and live in it. Hitler’s residence in the dark forest of East Prussia, “The Wolf’s Lair” would be my Dream Home. The last place I would ever go for a vacation would be sunny Mexico. The last thing I would ever wear would be sunscreen.

That is what the Cold War did for me. I am a Cave-Dweller. Only my dog understands.

POSTCRIPT:

Every generation, it seems, faces a unique test, and emerges stronger or traumatized. Those that follow sometimes arrogantly assume that they invented the end of the world. Biodiversity loss and climate change are indeed calamities that could deal our species out of the game. But so was nuclear war, and it is in our fixation on environmental threats, that we have forgotten to notice the gathering storm clouds. I look over my shoulder at Iran, Israel and the White House, the probability of resource wars, and I just can’t get the monkey of fearing the Bomb off my back. Much in the way my parents couldn’t forget living through the Depression. Like a huckster at a carnival, the Grim Reaper may be playing a shell game with us. We are looking at the two shells labeled climate change and species loss. But the pea is under the one that says “all-out nuclear free-for-all”. Wouldn’t that be the irony. Both Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon lose their bet. To Dr. Strangelove.

Tim Murray
Quadra Island, BC
August 30, 2008

6 comments:

Danii Curry said...

maybe severn suzuki didn't invent doomsday, but you damn well better appreciate the effort she made to make a difference. maybe she isn't the first to suffer, the first to think and feel that it's all going to hell, but she is one of the youngest people to stand up in front of adults AS A CHILD and declare that they must take responsibility. she isn't the one who makes the major choices in this world. they are.

her action took guts that no one i've ever seen has had. everyone's got something to be have a pity party about, but it's when you try to make a difference in the world that you're making a choice to abandon your fear in search of something better. i actually don't even understand why you wrote this post. bitter feelings should not be projected on the youth.

so, don't approve this comment if it hurts your feelings. you're in control of your small corner of the globe. you chose what to do with your own life. so start taking some responsibility for your own pity party. we all have one, old man.

Soul Seeker said...

Unfortunately it seems, age is an obstacle to realize that we have come to a live in a world of consequences. In this day and age, everything takes place faster, time flies and belittling people -and their thoughts - just because of their age is not appreciated.

Tim Murray said...

Soul Seeker doesn’t get it. Severn Suzuki was belitting the horrid experience of the generation that came before her, just as my generation belittled the experience of my father’s generation who lived through the Depression and the Second World War. It is the arrogance of youth---thinking that their trials and tribulations test them more than their parents or grandparents were tested. Most offensive though, was her presumption to speak on behalf of Vancouverites in conceding that “we” had a privileged life. What she should have said is that SHE had a privileged life, along with most of Point Grey residents. If she was the daughter of a bus driver and sharing a 950 square foot house in the East End with 6 other people, a house that had one small bathroom and an icebox instead of a refrigerator----like most in my neighbourhood, her concept of privileged living would be different. The problem with Canadian environmentalism is that it speaks with a yuppie voice from a middle class vantage point. In this case it was an invisible ventriloquist speaking through his daughter whom he has coached so well.

Tim Murray said...

Dannii,
You're right. We must not wallow in self-pity and assume the mantle of victimhood as an excuse for inaction, waiting for an outside force to rectify what went wrong with our lives and give us some recompense for it. That is why I spend as much time fighting for environmental causes as the Suzukis do, but without a salary. Check out this blog. Almost 300 articles in two years. That requires research and effort. That spells commitment. And I am not doing for myself, really. After all, I am, in your words, "an old man" (a label that vindicates my belief that youthful disrespect underlies your--and Severn's attitude). I am really doing it my nephews and niece. Bitter feelings can be converted to activism, and to the determination that younger generations will not be allowed to erase the historical record. Every generation has had its quota of guts. But the generation that suffered the depression, two wars and the threat of nuclear annihilation had to have MORE than its share of courage just to make it through.

bemcdonald said...

Your article is very well reasoned. I got the same vibe off of her presentation. She's a privileged young lady who has absorbed her parents radical viewpoint and in her youthful ignorance turned it into disrespect for her elders. I found her attitude to be completely arrogant and disgusting!

susan.charlton said...

"I got the same vibe off of her presentation. She's a privileged young lady who has absorbed her parents radical viewpoint and in her youthful ignorance turned it into disrespect for her elders. I found her attitude to be completely arrogant and disgusting!"

I wish my own daughter had absorbed a viewpoint of mine that would ignite passion and fury in her soul. Yes Severn Suzuki is a privileged young lady, woman now, and she acknowledged this in her speech to the UN. She is still - 18 years on - using her sense of justice to fight for a better world for her generation and those to follow it. In fact she had dedicated her entire life to this cause.

If you found her attitude to be arrogant and disgusting I would suggest her words made you uncomfortable. Or perhaps you can't bear than some people are privileged in life. What, by the way, are you doing personally in support of the planet and future generations?

I am so grateful for the privileged who stand up and speak for those without a voice. I'm grateful to David Suzuki for his life's work, which includes producing one amazing human being who has added and will continue to add to this planet which is governed mainly by a bunch of bigots who are full of greed, love a good war and have no integrity or regard for the rest of us.