This morning a friend of mine shared a somewhat alarming story about there being possibly a nuclear incident of some kind in the Arctic, likely due to Russian ships and submarines in the Kola Peninsula near Finland and Norway that have decayed and possibly spilled out nuclear waste into the Arctic Ocean. At the moment there has been no confirmation of what happened and speculation has run rampant, but among the possibilities it appears mostly likely that the nuclear disaster was due to the decay of existing facilities or ships leading to some sort of loss of containment of the nuclear materials within, if not to the highest levels of nuclear disaster , at least to such an extent that there is concern about the safety and well-being of the Arctic yet again . As someone who cares surprisingly a lot about the well-being of that obscure region, it is quite upsetting to think that there could be a serious nuclear disaster that has gone completely unknown because Russia refuses to be transparent about what is going on in the troubled home of its mothballed Arctic fleet.
This morning I also got a message from my mom about her mother, whose health has declined dramatically over the past few months to the point where I have more or less a frequent watch on the price of plane tickets to and from Tampa in expectation of an eventual need to fly for yet another family funeral . At this particular stage, it seems likely that my grandmother’s character has been tested sufficiently. Her deep emotional reserve and generosity of spirit expressed especially through food made for an unusual combination when I was being brought up as a child, but God certainly at this point knows all He needs to know about her character and there is little left to test as far as she is concerned. When someone’s life has reached the point where their own capacity for action and expression and a great deal of their memory has been lost, it can safely be said that there is nothing more that they can be fairly tested on, and that they have passed whatever remains except for the grimmest persistence to live or the acceptance that one’s life is nearing its end.
Yet when people reach such a place, there is still a trial for the living. The end of life, just like the beginning of life, places a trial on those who are taking care of the helpless and defenseless. When a baby is crying and upset, or an elderly person gone senile is frustrated and upset, it is not their character that is being tested and refined. They are acting the way that they are because they have no choice or say in the matter. Where there is no will and no capacity to do anything else, there can be no responsibility or blame in the matter. The trial is on the living, on how we can manage to show love and concern for those whose behaviors are deeply frustrated. It is hard to show kindness to crying, needy, and demanding infants who are loud and frustrating, and it is hard to care for elders whose bodies and minds are rapidly deteriorating and who cannot remember us and engage us and interact with us profitably like they used to. In the one case, we must look to the future as capacity increases and capabilities are learned, and in the other case we must look to the past and to the good times that were once shared that are no longer ours to enjoy. Either way, the trial is for those who are living and who retain their sound mind and relatively good health, to preserve love and respect for those who can not yet or no longer do much of anything for themselves, as much as we might wish that they would be less frustrating to deal with.
And as it is with people, so it is with what we build. In decades past the Soviet Union (and not only them) built up a great deal of infrastructure that depended on nuclear power. The promise was that such power could be tamed and made safe and would be long-lasting and less destructive than other forms, but as we have seen in recent years it is hard to sustain the containment that is necessary to keep nuclear energy from contaminating the outside world. Natural disaster and the ravages of time destroy the best defenses we know how to build, and we are left with the reality that nuclear energy is something that retains the power to harm us many generations after we no longer need to use the ships and submarines that we built to defend ourselves from the dangers other presented, and that the nuclear plants we construct to reduce our dependence on vulnerable logistical chains of oil from dodgy regimes in dangerous parts of the world themselves are vulnerable to the vicissitudes of our dangerous planet. The remnants and wreckage of our past leaves trials for the living. There is little we can do but face these trials as bravely and wisely as we can.
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