Contemplating a disaster of our own choosing

Occasionally we are reminded that our existence clings fragilely to a huge and violent planet controlled by massive forces that toil invisibly beneath its own surface, or in the currents of the far away sky. When something breaks in the balance of these forces, we — either you, me, or some copy of you and me embodied in people we cannot know halfway around the world — are caught in the middle, and made to suffer. Those in Japan are suffering now, and our thoughts naturally gravitate to them.

When the earth heaves and yaws and breaks open, when pure red molten evil erupts, when the air we breathe is suddenly filled with irresistable howling fury, when walls of water rise up to scrub away our matchstick existence, that’s when the conceit of our faith disappears.

Our faith in a kind and benevolent god — a god in whose image we ourselves are made, whose purest impulses of love and power and creation and sublimation are somehow genetically coded (however imperfectly) into each of us — gets thrown into crisis. When the massive earth itself overturns us, we cannot comprehend. We cannot but see a hand at work, but we wail against our own faith in the guiding power behind that hand.

The spiritual crisis that these disasters provoke boils down to four words: “Who would choose this?”

And yet we do choose it, all too often, in the worlds of our making. We build up mighty empires and then tear them down with our own hands. We take the misery of one community and use it as justification to destroy another. We wage continent-sized wars over the intangible, unseeable color of belief.

We are seeing this drama play out again on an embarrassingly small stage in these NFL negotiations. Even now those lucky and immeasurably wealthy fools who have enriched themselves from the most popular game in the land stand only hours away from wreaking their own personal havoc upon it. The deeply felt forces boil within these men, threatening to turn over the ground upon which the game stands, to scatter it to pieces. The relative scale of this destruction — huge in the balance of the sporting world, miniscule in the balance of our survival — is barely felt by those whose hands are upon it. The irony is entirely lost in the mad instinct to break a balance, to take control at whatever cost.

And our faith in the game, our conceit that it somehow matters, is shaken by the uncomprehendable stupidity of the act of destruction. Even if it wasn’t immediately dwarfed by catastrophes much larger in scale.

But something curious happens once the crisis has passed, once the dead are dead, the broken is broken, and the rest of us live. More often than not, that faith comes back, and with it the urge to build, to create, to save. Not just to put back what was, but to somehow make it better than before. It might be folly, but it is a human instinct.

There may be some who leave Japan in the wake of this earthquake, but there will be many, many others who stay, whose grip on their life there, whose belief that it matters, could not be shaken free. 

And regardless of what happens behind closed doors today when the opposing tectonic forces of millionaires and billionaires meet, what may happen in courtrooms and press conferences and war rooms in the coming weeks and months, it will be hard to scatter this silly conceited love of football that I hold.

It might sound ridiculously small in the scale of today’s events, but it will take more than this invented labor “crisis,” in other words, to stop me from believing in my Rams.