A Reflection by Charles Simic

Goodbye Serenity
by Charles Simic
I’m having trouble deciding whether I understand the world better now that I’m in my seventies than I did when I was younger, or whether I’m becoming more and more clueless every day. The truth is somewhere in between, I suspect, but that doesn’t make me rest any easier at night. Like others growing old, I had expected that after everything I had lived through and learned in my life, I would attain a state of Olympian calm and would regard the news of the day with amusement, like a clip from a bad old movie I had seen far too many times. It hasn’t happened to me yet. My late father, in the final year of his life, claimed that he finally found that long-sought serenity by no longer reading the papers and watching television. Even then, and I was thirty years younger than he, I knew what he meant. What devotees of sadomasochism do to their bodies is nothing compared to the torments that those addicted to the news and political commentary inflict on their minds almost every hour of the day.
My own inordinate interest in what the lunatics are up to in every corner of our planet has to do with my childhood. When I was three years old in Belgrade, German bombs started falling on my head. By the time I was seven, I was accustomed to seeing dead people lying in the street, or hung from telephone poles, or thrown into ditches with their throats cut. Like any child growing up in an occupied city during wartime, I didn’t think much about it. I was as serene then as I will ever be, sitting among the ruins smoking my first cigarette, riding on a Russian tank with a friend, or watching our school janitor hang the portraits of Marx, Stalin and Marshal Tito in our classroom after the liberation.
Becoming a displaced person after that, one among millions, ending up in country after country, learning one foreign language after another, mispronouncing its words in school or when asking direction in the street, struggling to read and make sense of the history of the place, worrying about some war being declared and even bigger bombs falling on my head, and later, when I was older, fretting about being inducted into the army and sent half-way across the world to die for a cause that made no sense to me or to a great many other humans being capable of thinking—all this contributed to my need to know what plans are being hatched behind our backs.
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