Back in the days when I was strong enough to read depressing literature, I read The Drowned and the Saved. The author claimed that in the concentration camps the nice people with him died, so if one ended up surviving Auschwitz as he had, it was crystal clear—at least to him anyway—that you must be morally deficient. You couldn’t possibly be courageous, or else you would have died standing up to one of the thousands of inhumane demands the Nazi guards made. You couldn’t be compassionate or else, when you discovered a drip of water leaking from a pipe, you would have shared the water with thirsty coworkers instead of hogging it yourself.
I heard a new estimate the other day that as many as eighty-five percent of all human beings on earth were taken out by the Apocalypse or as my neighbor Dr. Cohen, the scientist, refers to it in his genteel way: “the Series of Unpleasant Catastrophes.”
That I remain alive when so many other people are not means it’s possible I’m not so nice. Not a wonderful thing to admit, but there it is.
Jill Riddell is a writer in Chicago. She teaches at the School of the Art Institute and has a weakness for nature, magic, and pennies abandoned in sidewalk cracks.