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 therell 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