Last Night I Saw the Mushroom Cloud
I dreamed I saw the mushroom cloud. It’s been absent from my dreams for so long, in spite of Ahmadinejad. The more he talks about eliminating us, the deeper my sleep.
As a girl, I dreamt of it often; it was the backdrop of my life. Its after-image cast such a long shadow, in those days, that stray sparks from the firestorm were still drifting around the globe. The fallout was like snowflakes, finding their way all the way from Japan into my yellow-wallpapered bedroom in Connecticut.
I wasn’t the only one. Any American childhood in the 1950s and 60s took place with that impossibility as the underlying reality, and underlying fantasy: a brilliant white nightmare in the backyard, rising faster than Jack’s Beanstalk. Americans who were optimistic enough to build fallout shelters were ridiculed by their compatriots. How could a concrete bunker, naively fitted out with air filter and a two-week supply of bottled water, protect you from a bomb reputed to be greater than a hundred Hiroshimas? Even if you and your family did make it into the shelter in time and shut the hatch successfully against your neighbors, what kind of landscape would eventually greet you if you survived (assuming you hadn’t melted into the concrete of your underground chamber)? What would you dine upon when your supplies ran out? No way, anymore, to pick up a quart of milk at the supermarket. Busses would not be running. And how would you breathe in the brave new world, once the dust settled and you emerged into the radioactive light, or darkness, of day?
As a citizen of Israel, I’m therefore puzzled by a sort of fearless insouciance on my part in response to the Iranian President’s threats, which couldn’t be more blatant. A smiley fellow, boyish and diminutive, he’s usually pictured before a cluster of microphones. Over the past few years he has variously called Israel a “rotten branch that will soon be destroyed,” an “illegitimate regime that will be wiped off the map,” “an usurper and an illegitimate entity.” “As everybody knows,” the President has declared, “the Zionist regime was created to establish dominion of arrogant states over the region and to enable the enemy to penetrate the heart of Muslim land…. Israel must be wiped out from the map of the world,” and “there is no doubt the Palestinian nation and Muslims as a whole will emerge victorious.” “With the force of God behind it, we shall soon experience a world without the United States and Zionism.” “Anybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation’s fury.”
Iran has reportedly requested United Nations aid for their nuclear development program, on the grounds that the purpose of its program is cancer research.
So now that the possibility of nuclear war is on a nearby horizon, like a nightmare coming this way, why aren’t I going out of my mind with fear? Why aren’t I out on the streets, demonstrating to save our lives?
My efforts to be honest with myself about my own low-key reaction, whereby I do nothing whatsoever on a practical level to combat the threat, have failed. I truly can’t tell if this is admirable serenity in the face of mortal danger, or the paralysis of helplessness that sometimes seizes the dreamer. Perhaps it’s the necessary numbing which occurs naturally in the face of something so overwhelming that it’s off the charts. Would it be just too nerve-wracking to take him seriously?
Like Jews who remained in Europe when it was still possible to get out, am I incapable of thinking the unthinkable, or am I so profoundly at home in Jerusalem that no matter what happens, I don’t want to be anywhere but here? Could it be that my trust in God has taken root so deeply that I’ve at last arrived– after a long and circuitous, complicated route — at simple faith?
Or is there something going on akin to Queen Esther’s response to Haman, Ahmadinejad’s forbear, who in spite of his plans to annihilate all the Jews, ended up killing not a one? “For how can I bear to witness the disaster which will befall my people? How can I bear to witness the destruction of my relatives?”
As a child, I thought we existed in a random world, a planet spinning in a vast, dark universe in which physical laws constitute the ultimate reality, and unimaginable evil can triumph.
Now I know that reality is larger than the world we see, and that my own little voice, in personal conversation with the Creator, is the most powerful channel at my disposal to effect the course of events. But when I glanced out my window last night and saw the mushroom cloud, looking so strange and so familiar, and inevitable, I knew it couldn’t be. It was finally happening but was beyond belief, so I woke up, and it was just a dream.
Sarah Shapiro’s most recent books are Wish I Were Here and All of Our Lives: An Anthology of Contemporary Jewish Writing. This article first appeared in the NY Jewish Week.