I’ve always wondered what it must have been like for those ancient Romans as their world began to collapse around them. Here they were, the only superpower, a first class military, abundant wealth and status and yet, just outside their walls stood a rag-tag army of immigrants. Yes, these barbarians, this tribe of Goths, were immigrants. They came across the boundaries of the Empire, they were part of a great migration that would eventually swallow up the once powerful Roman Empire and plunge Europe into what we call today, the Dark Ages.
I’m not going to go into the history of what happened but I am curious as to what those Romans felt as they watched their way of life crumble before their eyes. What warnings did they have? What propaganda did the Emperor and Senate use to insure them that all would be just fine? It is hard for me to imagine their feelings, then again, as I watch the daily drama unfold on Twitter and the various media sites, I’m beginning to understand what may have been going through their minds. Of course, that is all assuming that they, the Romans, were aware that something big was happening, that their world was experiencing a cataclysmic shock that would be felt for generations to come. Back then, there was no Social Media sites, there was no instantaneous news feeds running 24/7, and once the roads were cutoff, even getting messages into the city would have been greatly curtailed. I can only imagine a city rife with rumors, each one more shocking that the next. Unscrupulous businessmen taking advantage of the fear, selling security in the form of freed gladiators, who would protect your home and family from the impending hoard. Of course, being human the citizens would have done anything for security, just like today, we will do anything for security even if it means giving up our precious freedoms. Only later, when it’s already too late, do we find these securities to be nothing more than phantoms, there one moment gone like a wisp of smoke the next.
We Americans are not immune from the changes we see all around us. Nations, like North Korea, Iran and others, want to have nuclear capabilities. They see the larger nations as a threat, bullies who can punish them economically and so like the little kid being bullied in school they seek to even out the playing field, and that means having “the bomb.” The big kids cry foul, claim that they’re not playing by the rules but then again, neither did those Germanic tribes who sacked Rome play by the rules. So, what do we do? I have no answer for the greater questions, in fact no one does. There are no easy answers, no one size fits all solutions that will make everyone happy. After all we are dealing with human beings, a species that for centuries has never been able to see the consequences of their actions.
Then the question becomes, are we doomed? No, at least I hope not. Sure there are those days when it looks pretty dismal then we have those moments of light. People reaching out to help one another, some even crossing boundaries that once were impassable to pull each other along. The recent hurricanes in Texas and Florida have shown our better nature as people reached out across, social, racial and cultural divides to help one another. Heroic efforts of first responders and ordinary citizens, risking life and limb to help, again shows that deep connection we have. Somewhere, in each of us there is that spark of the Divine that despite our best efforts to keep it hidden from view refuses to be closeted.
Yesterday was the 16th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11. I looked up into a bright blue September sky, as a plane flew overhead preparing to land at Logan. That plane is not a villain, it is not inherently evil, it is just a machine designed to carry people across great distances in a matter of hours and not days. It is one of humanity’s crowning achievements, the very idea of flight, of escaping the bonds of earth and flying into the heavens. Yet, on that day 16 years ago, this marvel of engineering was turned into a weapon of mass destruction. Yes, humanity is capable of doing great things, wonderful things and, humanity is also capable of so much destruction.
In Matthews Gospel Jesus is quoted as saying, “fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell,” I have to wonder, as I read the latest social media postings and watch the news, if the one we need to fear is not the other but the one in the mirror.