A note from Professor Letter re: the World is crazy
An email to my students sent upon the occasion of Russia invading Ukraine to the horror and dismay of almost everyone in the entire world
This is a really tough time to be a human being on the planet Earth. In addition to our background state of environmental crisis (and also a global pandemic, and also the creeping sense that people have forgotten how to talk to one another as human beings...), we now witness an authoritarian nuclear state invading a nascent democracy.
I'll leave it to the historians and political scientists to determine just how great a "break" this, but as a writer, as a storyteller, as a person deeply devoted to imaginative empathy and to understanding the complexities of our lives through narrative-making, the break registers as a powerful unmaking of our assumptions about our lives in this world, about our tomorrows and what they hold. It's shredding our story, our true story of ourselves, which I believe is the most precious thing about us.
This is the story of all-humankind. Nowhere in the world is a "far-away" place, if the attention of the world is trained upon it -- and our eyes can be anywhere. If you witness one violent death you may be shaken for life; we have always known this. Yet now we might witness that violence on the vivid rectangle of a phone screen, while tucked into our bed and surrounded by stillness. It's a total fucking mind-fuck.
And so, my students, I write to you from more than twice your age, having grown up during the Cold War taking the constant threat of global nuclear annihilation for granted even in kindergarten, and I tell you: this shit is unsettling, and you're allowed to be unsettled.
But remember, please, that your very presence on this planet is evidence -- proof -- of an unbroken chain of life reaching back to the beginning of time. Every one of your ancestors was a survivor, and they endured horrors -- impossible winters, merciless plagues, bloody wars, decades-long famines, the cruelty of kings and masters, the madness of mobs and crowds.
And they did this without adequate shelter, clean water, or modern clothing, while eating fungus-infected fruit and moldy bread, and occasionally meat... that gives you intestinal worms.
In other words, even though it feels like too much, we are strong, we are the survivors' children, and even if the global world order goes off the rails, it's not the first time, and with luck and effort we might just reshape this world to do better next time. Our human story has been bending towards peace, health, and human happiness for a long time, even if we still have a long way to go.
Life is hope. Be kind to the people around you, stand up for freedom, security, and democracy, and pray that they let us meet next week without masks! 🤞