That Was Then

It’s a quiet evening at the club.

Many of the regulars are here, but the mood is somber and reflective.

I’m alone in the library – Chesterton, Burroughs, Gibson, Rohmer, and Van Dine looking down on me from the shelves – thinking about old times and old friends.

Such as my high school chum Joe Marbutt.

“You said we’d meet again one day,” I told him when we serendipitously ran into one another not long ago.  “I never expected it would be here.”

We were both miles and years away from home.  Joe had left before I did, and as we looked at each other across two decades, it was evident that a great deal had changed.  So that’s what we talked about.

“We were the last generation to grow up under the threat of nuclear annihilation,” Joe said.

“That was our big worry back then,” I agreed, realizing that the last time I saw Joe, Ronald Reagan was in the White House, Sonny Bono was mayor of Palm Springs, the Cold War hadn’t ended yet, a wall separated Berlin, Ruhollah Khomeini was still alive, and Noriega was still in Panama.

In those days, if a plane crashed into a building, it was an accident.  Nobody had heard of Osama bin Laden.  A terrorist was somebody like the Unabomber, a shadowy, faceless urban legend in dark glasses and a hooded sweater.  Or the Palestinian militants who hijacked the Achille Lauro and murdered Leon Klinghoffer in 1985.

Such atrocities happened on the other side of the world.  We knew they happened, and it was a terrible shame that they did, but it wasn’t something we had to worry about here in the land of the free and home of the brave.

That was then.

The world Joe and I grew up in no longer exists.  It is by no means certain that we are in the main better off because it doesn’t, and it’s hard not to think about everything that happened 10 years ago today, and since, without feeling nostalgic for the way things used to be.

It’s still quiet at the club, and I’m scanning the shelves for Robert Burns.  You’ll not often catch me opening a book of poetry, but tonight I need to read Auld Lang Syne.

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