It's an ordinary summer day. The lawnmower and washing machine are humming away. It's Saturday, and thus a "free" day, so I baked scones for breakfast, to my husband's delight. Both kinds of work--the "business of living" and writing--await my attention. Just plain old ordinary.

Sixty-five years ago yesterday and Monday, other ordinary people were going about their ordinary lives. Until suddenly...they weren't.

People in Hiroshima and Nagasaki died, their ordinary stories abruptly ended. But the rest of us, those who weren't killed or had not yet been born, were also affected: nuclear weapons changed the lives of everyone, everywhere.

In the early 1940s, my mother, Jeanne LeCaine Agnew, worked for the National Research Council in Montreal, in the Canadian branch of the atomic research effort. About those days, she wrote

Like everyone else who was involved in this project, I think often of the way our work has been used, and ask myself whether I would make the same decision again. Given the situation of 1943, there was no other decision that could be made. The discovery of the laws of the Universe has been our assignment since the beginning of time. The secrets of the atom are a part of this body of knowledge. Before World War II began, the study of atomic energy was well advanced in several countries. There was no way it could be stopped, only a way to hope it could be controlled by responsible people. There are many pieces of knowledge that have great potential for both good and evil. Beginning with the discovery of fire and moving ahead to television and the invasion of space, each advance carries with it the ability to help or harm. Even books are not exempt. It remains for society to take the responsibility to see that the correct choices are made. In Pogo's famous line, "We have met the enemy and they is us."*

Is this the copout of the "pure scientist," one who cares more about the laws of physics than ethics? The uncomfortable truth is, yes, it's a bit of a copout. But it also shows her practical side. My mother was interested in mathematics teaching and research: they were her areas of expertise. Others were expert in politics and public policy, and she was content to leave them to do their work. She limited her participation in that arena to voting. She recognized she could not do everything.

In the spring of 1945, my mother chose not to move to Los Alamos with others of her team, because she would have had to commit to three years of work. She hoped my father would be stateside soon and they could start a family. She wanted an "ordinary" life, and eventually, she made one.

In the spring of 1991, I started my four+-year sojourn at Los Alamos National Laboratory as a communicator. My mother was proud that I chose to go there. My oldest brother, an anti-nuclear activist, likely was not so proud but our family doesn't "do" confrontation.

I had my own ethical concerns, my own uncomfortable truths, but I also shared my mother's practicality. Nuclear weapons had existed for 45 years by then. My work was to help scientists and engineers put to civilian use some of the knowledge surrounding those technologies--advances in environmental sciences, computing, modeling, machining, fabrication, chemistry, and yes, physics. I enjoyed the work and the people very much. Northern New Mexico is a beautiful place to live. But it wasn't my home or my life's work, so I moved on. It took me another ten years to find and create my own "ordinary" life, but I have.

And the "society" my mother writes of still must struggle with the legacy and consequences of this scientific discovery. The true horror of postwar Hiroshima and Nagasaki has become "history." Cold War apocalyptic scenarios have given way to scenarios featuring post-Cold-War rogue scientists in Eastern Europe struggling to feed their families, and those scenarios have morphed to focus on 21st-century Middle Eastern fanatics who couldn't possibly comprehend the power of the sleeping dragon whose tail they're tickling.

Sadly, not nearly enough has changed since my mother wrote this paragraph in 1987. Today's perceived exigencies--not war, mere lifestyle--still take precedence over the protection of human and environmental dignity. BP's criminal negligence in its search for more oil was part of the actions it takes "for our benefit"--to keep the cost of oil low so we can live the way we do, with lawnmower and washing machine humming. This is their story. What parts are uncomfortably true?

Hundreds of thousands of people died 65 years ago. Millions of people were killed during that war. Millions have died since, not only in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, but in Bhopal, Chernobyl, and New Orleans. Technology is a tool; decisions about its use, or lack thereof, have long-lasting consequences.

And where is "society" in all this? Who are the responsible people my mother wrote about? Pogo knew: they are us. We have a responsibility to use our minds for something other tracking which celebrity is in which prison for which offense. We don't have to become politicians, ethicists, geologists, engineers, researchers--we can be artists. But as artists, we do have a responsibility to use our voices, and our platforms, for challenging each other, for telling uncomfortable truths, for giving voice to stories in honour of those whose stories ended so abruptly.

So we write, some of us, on this ordinary day.

** Jeanne LeCaine Agnew, "By choice and by chance," in Still Running...Personal stories by Queen's women celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Marty Scholarship, Joy Parr, editor. Queen's University Alumnae Association, 1987.