Alan Zendell, November 17, 2022
We’ve all experienced situations that might have resulted in tragedy or disaster but didn’t. Whether we reacted by thanking God or just feeling lucky, we came away shaken, reminded how fragile life and everything we value is. If we were smart, we took our good fortune as an opportunity to learn something.
My wife and I had two such experiences driving, recently. In the first, we were stopped at a red light. When it turned green, I began a left turn, but the sun setting to my right blinded a driver coming from my left. He couldn’t see that the light had turned red in his direction and barreled through the intersection at 60 mph. If some sixth sense hadn’t made me stop, we’d have been killed. The second incident occurred on a freeway with traffic moving at about 65. Out of nowhere, it seemed, a car in the exit lane was hit by another and thrown across three lanes of traffic, directly in front of us.
Whether we survived by luck, skill, or the intervention of some beneficent entity, two such incidents made me take notice. Our reflexes aren’t what they used to be, and we viewed our near misses as a warning that at our ages we couldn’t take anything for granted. Even with the best safety technology in the world, we can’t afford the slightest lapse in attention.
In the past week, we all experienced two near misses that could have been catastrophic. A missile explosion in Poland, just across the border from Ukraine, might have triggered Article 5 of the NATO charter, potentially plunging the world into a nuclear conflict. That occurred eight days after a consequential election that might have left our Constitution in tatters and our country’s future in serious jeopardy. We can only hope our leaders got the messages.
The world has been at risk of self-destruction since 1945. We’ve lived one heartbeat from oblivion, should one person in a critical position of responsibility miscalculate, misinterpret, or overreact to provocation. Our first wake-up call came in 1962, when Soviet Russia tried to install ballistic missiles in Cuba. Premier Nikita Khrushchev had done his best to convince the west that he was an unstable madman. Our world might have ended that day if he hadn’t proven to be a responsible statesman.
We’ve been concerned about the same thing with current Russian President Vladimir Putin. Will his paranoid obsession that NATO is out to destroy Russia cause him to lash out with every weapon at his disposal, or does he have a red line of responsibility that he won’t cross? Now that it appears that the explosion that killed two Polish citizens was a Ukrainian defensive projectile attempting to intercept an incoming Russian missile, we can breathe a sigh of relief.
But we’d better not stop there. If we fail to heed the Poland incident as a warning, if every world leader including Mr. Putin doesn’t realize how easily things could have gotten out of control, we’re ultimately doomed. We can’t live on the nuclear precipice forever, assuming things will always work out. As individuals, nations, and as a species, our survival rests in our own hands. Our best hope is offering Putin an off ramp that would enable him to negotiate an end to his illegal war and save face before he is either taken out by his own people or he commits the sort of desperate error that could end everything.
We faced a similar crisis at home. That it didn’t involve weapons of mass destruction made it no less a threat to our future. We have our own version of an irresponsible leader who allows his personal demons to drive his decisions. His unfortunate, charismatic appeal to the worst, most violent elements of our society had brought us to the unthinkable possibility that a minority of us with their own selfish agendas could destroy the foundations of our democracy.
We saved ourselves from the worst on Election Day. We should be proud that Americans stood up for our Constitution, but when we’re done patting ourselves on the back, we’d best remember that Donald Trump will not go away until people of decency and good will force him to. He has proved that he’d rather burn everything down than not get his way. Just as I realized I couldn’t afford a single inattentive moment behind the wheel of my car, we can never let down our guard as long as he’s out there poisoning our country.
Remember the joke that went viral after Hurricane Katrina about a man who flees from the flooding by climbing onto his roof? He refuses to be evacuated by boat or helicopter, stubbornly claiming that God will save him. When he meets his end, he complains to God that He let him drown, and God says, “I sent a boat and a helicopter to save you. Your salvation was in your hands, but you refused to act.” The same is true for us.