The New Year
The year 2001 started with a new president emerging from a pile of dimpled chads, and ended with anthrax spores in the mail. As years go, it was about as predictable as the time and place of the next meeting of the Galactic Federation of the Parallel Universe.
The new year, 2002, is now upon us and we're all along for the ride. The journey may be a pleasant one or a hundred miles an hour down a dead-end street, often depending on your point of view.
Every year, life seems to get easier and more complicated at the same time.
My family didn't own a TV until I was in the fifth grade. I can remember when my grandmother in Wisconsin had a wooden icebox on her back porch and every week some crusty old coot would deliver a chunk of ice about the size of a Buick engine block. She had cold running water and cooked over a wood-burning stove, her only source of heat. A Saturday night bath was a major project that included boiling water on the wood-burning stove and toting it down the hall to the washtub. A hundred years ago, shortly after the turn of the last century, things were quite a bit different.
* The United States of America had only 45 states. Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Alaska and Hawaii had not yet been admitted to the Union. Texas was a state but it was too late to do anything about it.
* Life expectancy in the United States was 47 years. Pneumonia, tuberculosis and diarrhea were the three leading causes of death. Then as now, women were the leading cause of headaches.
* The average wage in the United States was 22 cents per hour and the average worker made less than $400 per year. On the positive side, there was no income tax.
* There were only 8,000 cars in the United States and less than 150 miles of paved roads. The maximum speed in most cities was 10 miles per hour. Many people believed that exceeding 30 miles per hour would cause brain damage. Today, merely looking at the sticker price of a new car can cause brain damage.
* Drive-by shootings were a major problem in Denver and other cities in the West. Apparently, teen-age boys would gallop through town on horseback, randomly shooting pistols at whatever caught their fancy.
* Only 6 percent of Americans graduated from high school. One in 10 adults couldn't read or write. These days, many more people graduate from high school but they don't necessarily know how to read or write.
* Marijuana, heroin and morphine were all available over-the-counter at corner drugstores. Coca-Cola contained cocaine instead of caffeine. Individual freedom once actually existed before the government decided it had a right to control the mood swings of its subjects.
* The closest thing to a computer was an accountant with 10 fingers and 10 toes, or a Chinaman with an abacus.
* Television, radio, and the Internet were only figments of the imagination of science fiction writers. The main form of entertainment consisted of conversing with other live human beings, mostly about the weather, or watching the grass grow, depending on your proximity to other live human beings and your ability to come up with something interesting to say. It's hard to predict what the new year has in store for us. The human race is a work in progress. We take two giant steps forward and a giant step backward. Whenever we get to a crossroad, we occasionally choose the wrong direction. Perhaps someday we'll reach the Promised Land. Until then, the best we can do is to savor the journey.
May the New Year bring peace on earth and joy to all. But if we must endure more hardship, that's OK, too. After all, suffering builds character.