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A Grandfather in a New World

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 6/10/2015 Tom Engelhardt
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Frida Berrigan's "Parenting on the Brink" speaks to me very personally. At 71, I have two children and a grandchild in this world, and I feel some responsibility for the sorry planet I'm leaving them. TomDispatch began as a no-name listserv, springing from a post-9/11 foreboding that, though I had been mobilized and active in the Vietnam War era, what was coming would be the worst years of my life, politically speaking. As those repetitive ceremonies in which we celebrated ourselves and our country as the greatest victims, survivors, and dominators on the planet spread, as they refused to end, as the urge for revenge of some all-encompassing sort grew and was encouraged by the Bush administration, as I began to grasp where its top officials were thinking about taking us (to hell and back, to quote a movie title of my childhood), I had the urge to do something.

I had done good work as a book editor over the years, but this was different. It was a powerful feeling that I couldn't just leave what seemed to be a degrading country or world to my children without lifting a hand, without trying to do something. I had no idea what, but from that feeling, thanks to happenstance, dumb luck, and obsession, TomDispatch stumbled into existence. And because I was then indeed doing something, I felt, amid the gloom, a certain hope.

So I've never looked back. But, of course, one small critical website that attempts to offer ways to reframe what's happening on our increasingly embattled planet hardly represents a world-saving act, nor did I ever think that such an act could be mine -- or really any individual's. What this has meant, though, is that, 14 years later, when with utter exuberance my grandson "races" me down a city block pulling me by the hand, I feel just the sort of pleasure (at one remove since I'm no longer the parent) that TomDispatch regular Berrigan describes so movingly with her own daughter. And every time I'm with him, just as she describes, there are those other moments, the ones when I suddenly remember what's happening on this planet, the ones when I look at him and feel overcome by sadness verging on grief at the potentially devastated world that may be his inheritance, my "gift" to him. Those are indeed fears "too big to name." Still, Berrigan does a remarkable job of bringing to consciousness a new sensibility that, however seldom mentioned, must be increasingly common currency on this planet.

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