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Weekly Features
Letter from New York
Mathew Tombers is Managing Director of Intermat, Inc., ( a television company which executive produces programs and consults with industry companies on a variety of issues. Intermat, Inc. is currently involved in approximately thirty hours of television in various stages for a variety of networks. He is one of the Executive Producers of OFF TO WAR, a ten hour series for Discovery Times and for a one hour on international adoptions for Discovery Health. He has consulted a variety of companies, including Ted Turner Documentaries, WETA, Betelgeuse Productions, and Creation Films, Lou Reda Productions as well as many others.

May 30, 2006

Sidelined on the tracks of life…

The last few days I have had a sense of returning to the agrarian roots of my forefathers in that I have been up before the rooster crows.

Thursday was no different from the days before. I crawled out of my hotel room bed at oh dark hundred to catch the 6 a.m. Acela back to New York. After a short nap, I made my way to the Cafe car for a coffee. Just as I was about to return to my seat, there came a sound not unlike a huge breaker switch being thrown. The air-conditioning began to fade and the train slowed. Over the next few minutes we glided to a stop. Shortly an announcement came: there was a problem with the electric cables that gave power to the train; they would let us know what was happening as soon as anyone knew what was happening.

Ten minutes later they still didn't know what was happening but they had been assured it was not a terrorist act, which, I confess, was something that had crossed my mind.

This pause gave me a considerable amount of unstructured time to contemplate. Many in my compartment were headed to the city for meetings; some were catching an early start on the long Memorial Day Weekend.

For many of them, I suspect, if not even most, the significance of Memorial Day was exactly that: it was a long weekend. The reason we have a long weekend is that we are taking a day to remember those who have died in the service to their country. There will be, I know, speeches that will remind us of that and flags will be flown.

Weather permitting there’ll be barbeques, picnics and tennis games. As people are eating their barbeque and picnicking and playing tennis and golf, I truly suspect there will not be much thinking of those who have died, unless you are family of the recently fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Eventually we were evacuated from the train, brought down a steel stair with our belongings and asked to march about three quarters of a mile to the Trenton train station. Naturally, there was a fair amount of bitching. Yet, for the most part, people were orderly and calm; all looking very much like refugees, moving stolidly forward, carrying our backpacks and our suitcases across the rocky terrain of the train tracks.

My mind thought of all the photos I have seen in recent months of refugees around Darfur, carrying meager possessions in baskets on their head with children streaming behind them, some carrying them, some holding and helping elderly parents.

As I watched my fellow passengers maneuver their way toward Trenton, I wondered if they were thinking how lucky we all were to be only mildly inconvenienced rather to be fleeing for our lives.

It is the great fortune of our lives and our fate, to date, that we have not been forced to be refugees of the kind that are found in Darfur. Americans live in a special kind of bubble, a place where any kind of breakdown is viewed as an aberration. We have come to expect that the world will work our way.

The difficulty we are facing is that we have competitors as we have never before.

So, as I prepare my Memorial Day relaxations, I am going to be thinking of a number of things – of all who have fallen in the service of our country, of all who have served this country in any of a thousand ways, from military service to the Peace Corps, and I will think about the great good fortune we have as Americans while at the same time hoping we are aware of the reality of the world in which we live, in which we have to compete and outthink any number of emerging nations who are eager to have our place on the world stage.

You see, we do not want to be, as I was, sidelined on the tracks.