A New Age
A prophetic memoir stuffed away until 2007,
when we heard of a lady dying
because her heat was turned off…
As the century was to end giving us her last decade, we found great change occurring around the globe.
The Warsaw Pact that held all of Eastern Europe in bondage for most of the 20th century was falling to democracy: by the power of people. We saw brutal killing in Romania, gradual civilized change in Hungary, Poland and Yugoslavia, revolt in East Germany, the Berlin wall came down and was sold as souvenirs, the Brandenburg Gate opened with passport-free travel for Germans on both sides for the Christmas of 1989. This meant families celebrating this hallowed event together, in peace, for the first time in 50 years.
We saw a Poland - after 300 years - on the verge of self- determined freedom and nationhood. It looked like a Europe whole and free from the Atlantic sea to the Ukraine.
But we also saw American soldiers in Panama dying to keep our children from a brutal fate, not the guns of war with which they fought, but the drugs that cleaned our streets of life every day. Few mini-dictators bothered to protect a petty henchman from his own mistakes. He was from the world of tin-horned dictators muscling in on the world.
The weather that year brought snow to Florida and Texas with sub- zero highs in all the Midwestern and eastern states, freezing two-thirds of this mighty nation. While we froze the world freed itself of many long hardships and warmed to liberty; as we fought for good drug-free schools and our future as a country, the ice-bound Soviet Union thawed and hatched new nations, tumbling statues of Lenin while a misunderstood Marx finally could rest in peace.
While the nation froze, indeed, somewhere in eastern Indiana in a small town, near a river in a trailer park there lived two elderly ladies. They had lived together for years, after losing their husbands. They had known each other forever. They finished playing gin-rummy, and moved the space-heater, closer to their stick chairs and pull tightly their blanket wraps. One dared to go into the kitchen and pour coffee from the pot on the small square hot-plate. When she returned she wrapped herself again. The other pulled a lady-flask of brandy out of her sweater and topped off the mugs. It was shared is good spirits, hints of smiles. They wished each other Merry Christmas.
The windows frosted over in the pink pale winter dusk. The candle were burning out. Their small world glowed a little less bright. They sat cold and quiet listening to the distant traffic of the twentieth century: at which they always marveled.
With no visitors and little left to do in the day this quiet moment was special to these ladies. It was theirs alone. With the space heater between them some parts of their bodies felt warmer, the rest was never more than numb.
The candle burned out.
As the world came closer to knowing what peace on Earth may have been, indeed across the face of Europe as the cold war thawed and the Islamic and Judaic worlds acquiesced to talks: as the world began its last decade of the 20th century, the master species in tenancy, finally figuring out what they should do with their great civilization, that one candle somewhere in the white winter of North America flickered its last.
In all our greatness, in all our wealth, we, the brightest star of man's honor and dignity, we who with a button pushed could have made waste of the entire planet, we who with one day's sweat could save nations and their people from famine and oblivion, we who could see nothing but our own greed, we who had forgotten to care, could neither see the simplicity of happiness nor the wisdom of truth.
When the sun came up on Christmas day, the 6-foot snow bank cleaned the horizon white, dry and bright. The windows of the trailer were dusted over with blown snow. Inside, no one stirred, but for the cold, they had been forgotten by all. The ladies were still at the table seated as before: the cards and the coffee had been untouched, the blankets were wrapped still tightly around their bodies, their hair dusted white.
They had fallen asleep, there, in the dark and had frozen to death.
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