I was almost certainly conceived in the last days of August,
1941, perhaps as part of the celebration of my mother’s
birthday on the 23rd of that month, and for the next nine
months I grew inside the body of another person, someone
who was going through perhaps the darkest, most anxious
days of what we call the civilized world. At no time in that
entire period was there a genuine moment of generalized
hope and optimism, including for the sentient being who
was carrying me and nourishing me to the initial climactic
minutes of birth and first breathing free air.
In those autumn months, Nazi armies were marching
through Russia, and had occupied virtually all of Europe.
Japanese armies had conquered China, the most populous
country on earth, and was threatening India, the second
most populous. New and ominous totalitarian ideologies
were suddenly taking control of most of the world’s land
mass and population.
Only three months later, in December, my home nation was
attacked, bringing us into the world war exploding around
us. We now might be invaded on any coast, lethal spies were
known to be among us, and one by one, the independent
countries of Europe and Asia and Africa were falling to
forces so unthinkable that no one then could imagine the
violence, perversion and death they would soon impose on
a civilization barely recovered from another world war, one
that had frightened and demoralized most of the planet only
twenty years before.
My father, a few years earlier, had been a young refugee
from European terror; my mother only a generation from
persecution and flight, and now the whole edifice of
humanity, so carefully built over millennia, seemed
collapsing in full sight and sound of every eye and ear.
Throughout that winter came further news of defeat and
overrun in Europe, retreat and brutal surrender in Asia,
and the first small leaks of news about strange internment
camps where men, women and children in unspeakable
numbers were disappearing overnight in ghastly columns
of dark smoke.
The spring brought no better news, only gruesome
details of armies that murdered civilians, and planes that
flattened ancient and beautiful cities.
I finally came out into the open at the end of May, 1942. It
was perhaps just about that time that the global trial run
of human freedom, still so young and promising, was
perceived as possibly coming to an end once and for all.
On the day I was born, there was no good news from
elsewhere in the world. In nearby Detroit, the largest test
blackout in the U.S. took place. In the Caribbean on that day,
Nazi submarines sank two Allied freighters. In Japan,
Axis carriers set sail for the Aleutians (Alaska). In Europe,
the German army was on the verge of a major victory in
Kharkov. My gestation had occurred in a world of
unrelenting anxiety and fear.
Does anyone know yet what is the impact on fetal existence
of such an environment of pervasive global threat? What
about those now waiting to be born in our current world of
new incessant threat and anxiety?
My mother stopped smoking during her pregnancy, did not
drink any alcohol and ate carefully during the whole period.
She had borne another child ten years before. She had the
best medical advice available at the time. Her husband, my
father, was a physician who had already delivered thousands
of babies. My birth, which took place after midnight, I am
told was without difficulty.
It was a difficult world I had entered, however, but just like
everyone reading this, I got here.
Copyright (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.