Chadwick Raines April 2019
When I was in high school, North Carolina underwent a drought. Every day when I'd go home with my mother, I'd look out across the sinking waterline of Lake Norman from the bridge on I-77. Silt-slicked muck near the marina hardened in the lowering sun. Humidity was high. The sky was cloudless. I remember how utterly helpless this drought made me feel, as I suspect any force majeure undoubtedly strikes an onlooker. This was life. The lake was disappearing. What man had created, nature was taking away.
It is the first time I remember experiencing existential dread. Loss and I are old companions, but I never felt the sinking, icy grasp of true despair until I saw the lake level falling week after week.
The rain came back, of course, and Lake Norman filled, and the silt flats returned to their submerged state, but the dread remained. It lingered in the back of my mind, forcing me to grapple with reality. A memento mori.
Loss and despair are fascinating facets of the human experience. When you find yourself enthralled by either, the world changes completely. It colors the way we consider our lives and those lives around us. For me, I felt this existential fear prompted a choice: I could either remain enthralled and surrender my agency, allowing nihilism to consume me; or I could do something about it. I chose the latter.
History is a wave, and the great influential notables--Napoleon, Curie, Caesar--are the tip of the wave. They are not responsible for the sum of change, but we remember them because they were at the top. Remove them, and another would have taken their place. This is important to remember. I may not be able to make the rains return, but I can be apart of the change. I may not be Napoleon, but I can be apart of the wave.
I still live with the dread at the back of my mind. My brother and his wife are preparing for their first child, and I think--who would, with the world as it is today, willfully bring another being in? What if the rain doesn't come back next time? Have they considered that? Did they stare at the lowering lake?
But they refuse to be paralyzed by enthrallment to loss and despair, just as I did. How can I fault them for that?
We must all of us make our choices, deciding how we want to approach the future. With any luck, the growing wave this time will course correct, and the lowering lake will fill again.
Artwork: Chris Down