Tuesday, December 3, 2013


11:02, Chicago Art Institute

The clock of life is wound but once
and no man has the power
to tell just when the hands will stop
at late or early hour.
Now is the only time you own.
Live, love, toil with a will.

The world paused for an instant at 11:02 in Nagasaki, Japan on August 9, 1945. The image above is from a special exhibit at the Chicago Art Institute. The scared remains of this wrist watch were found in the rubble after the devastating atomic bomb blast that hastened the end of WWII just days later. Hiroshima had been the first nuclear war target just three days earlier. Nagasaki was a secondary target that day as Kokura was the primary. But cloud cover diverted the B29 superfortress bomber “Bockscar” to a fateful divergence with history that morning. An inoperable fuel pump also limited the plane’s range. Because of many earlier air raids, the people below had actually become somewhat complacent about the sirens and many were not taking shelter. The unfathomable energy released by that single weapon killed seventy thousand people below in an instant. And no one understandably knew how to treat those survivors exposed to radiation poisoning.

Malcolm Gladwell notes in his new book on David and Goliath that forty thousand Londoners were killed over a period of eight months during the German Blitz of 1940. We all have a fear of fear, but after so many near misses, human beings actually begin to conquer it. The Blitz actually resulted in the exact opposite effect of instilling hopeless fear in the British people. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 about this theory of “desirable difficulty” which actually strengthens us. Unfortunately for the people of Nagasaki, this new weapon raised the bar of human warfare to the top of the post. It did leave the United States with a surplus of 495,000 Purple Heart medals, as Japan unconditionally surrendered five days later.

These hands of time serve as a mute reminder that humankind can never remain with a feeling of complacency in this nuclear world. Could it be that the ethereal being in the image above was wearing that watch almost seventy years ago and is desperately trying to convey its apocalyptic message even more fervently today? And remind us to always live, love and toil with a will as no man has the power to tell just when the hands will stop.

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