The death this week of Fidel Castro brought one old crisis back to the surface. And whilst I was too young to realise the danger, history has certainly recorded the grave risks we are all in during the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962. Because, 44 years ago, US reconnaissance photos showed that then Soviet Union was installing nuclear missile sites on that island. President Kennedy sent his Navy to blockade the incoming Russian freighters with the actual weapons. The Soviet fleet was also on hand and the world held its breath. Indeed, government officials in Washington and probably Moscow got up each morning wondering if we would all see evening.
And so, on 24th of October, Pope John 23rd sent a message to the Soviet embassy in Rome to be transmitted to the Kremlin, in which he voiced his concern. In this message, he stated “We beg all governments not to remain deaf to this cry of humanity. That they do all that is in their power to save peace.”
The whole affair culminated in the American ambassador Adlai Stephenson demanding in the UN Security Council for a response from his Russian counterpart. And when Valerian Zorin did not answer – he famously replied – I will wait until hell freezes over!
And it is into this volatile situation came the President’s brother Bobby Kennedy. Since he realised they had received two differing signals from the Kremlin. One was uncompromising and the other was more conciliatory. Which was correct? He advised the American cabinet to reply to the latter and ignore the former. Thus, a compromise was reached, peace was restored and the world breathed again.
Yet what has this to do with dreams and Christmas? Well, it seems that the Kennedys chose to follow the dream and reject the nightmare. They saw the possibility when surrounded by gross negativity. They grasped peace from the jaws of almost unimaginable conflict.
Now I cannot say if the various political decisions made by voters this year will lead us toward another such heart stopping moment. That, we will let the years ahead, take care of. Nevertheless, we do live in time of conflicting opinions, painful divisions and possibly risky brinkmanship. Yet we also live in an era of unparalleled opportunity to start to get this planet’s act together. We live in a time crying out for confident prophetic voices. We do live in a moment for dreaming with our eyes open. Since there is a wise if anonymous quotation that says – some people dream of great accomplishments while others stay awake and do them.
So, this Christmas preparation time, let us keep any eye on the warning signals. But then let us not pull the knot tighter. Since at the deepest point of the Cuban missile crisis, Khrushchev send to Kennedy a letter starting:
Mr. President, we and you ought not now to pull on the ends of the rope in which you have tied the knot of war, because the more the two of us pull, the tighter that knot will be tied.
Indeed, to these uncertain times let us respond with Joel-like prophecy. Let us remember to dream better and loosen the knots of conflict. Let us remember we always have a voice – a voice for peace, reason and common-sense.
Since so speaking is the only way to make Christ’s dream happen. It is the only way to turn crises into watersheds. And it is the only way to respond to God’s signal of peace, his light of hope and his promise of a kinder judgement.