Wednesday, February 23, 2011

How We Know the World Has Changed

I keep watching events in the Middle East and shaking my head (often my response to the Middle East, no matter what's going on). I keep thinking about these world leaders who seem to have been in power forever, and now, suddenly, it looks like they won't be. I think about how we've spelled their names differently through the years (al-Gaddafi, Gaddafi, Qaddafi, and back in the Reagan days, weren't we spelling his name with a K?). These people begin to seem immortal, except, of course, they're not.

I remember when Reagan bombed Libya in April of 1986--the whole world expected terrorist retribution. I was headed home from college to work in my summer job as social worker in D.C. I took the Metro everywhere. I was convinced that terrorists would blow up the Metro and end my young life.

I was probably in far more danger from other human elements on the Metro than Libyan terrorists. I was working in a dicey part of D.C., and that was the summer that D.C. had the nation's highest murder rate. But I kept my attention at high alert that whole summer. I was expecting terrorists or nuclear attack or any number of threats.

The world has clearly changed, based on my Metro experiences a few weeks ago. Several nights I came home after the evening rush hour, but still a bit early for club hoppers to be coming home. Still, I was amazed by how many young folks were staggering around drunk in the Metro stations.

These weren't down-on-their-luck drunks or homeless people looking for shelter from the cold by buying a Metro card. No, these were well-dressed hipster types and the females who loved them. In my younger days, I wouldn't have gotten drunk and descended into the caverns of the subway stations. It just didn't feel safe to me.

Truth to tell, it still doesn't feel safe to me. I was also astonished at what people will talk about on the Metro. I eavesdropped--the quarters were close, so how could I avoid it? I remember a pair of young women talking about their sexual exploits. I also remember the unsavory men nearby who were listening--and I worried about these young women and what might happen if the unsavory men decided to follow them. The young women were so oblivious, and for a brief moment, I envied them. What kind of world did they grow up in and live in to feel so safe?

Not the world of my youth, that's for sure. I was taught that the world was a dangerous place. There were rapists waiting, and if you escaped the rapists, the U.S.S.R. would be trying to resume taking over the world momentarily--and maybe, we'd all blow ourselves up in a nuclear bomb. Ah, the waning decades of the twentieth century! How strangely nostalgic I feel.

And yet, how hopeful I feel with these events in the Middle East. It's similar to how I felt in 1990 when Nelson Mandela walked out of jail. I cheered and yet worried for his safety. And yes, I know that it's a far distance from the first moments of liberty to a stable democratic country (South Africa still isn't really there), but how I love these first moments, when we can say, "Good-bye evil dictators! Be sure to release the captives on your way out!"

No comments: