It’s not like I’ve not been to Czechoslovakia before. Back when I was serving in the US Cavalry (and despite what my kids think I did not ride a horse and rescue settlers) we would sometimes get out of our small fast cavalry tanks and patrol the Czech boarder on foot, following old snow-covered footpaths through cold, fog enshrouded forests. We would occasionally pass white stone boarder markers, in size about six inches square and standing a little less than knee high, which marked the boundary between West Germany and Czechoslovakia. At one of these markers while my sergeant wasn’t looking I stuck my foot inside the border. It was a thrill. I’d been to a new country. Well, a part of me had at least. My foot the world traveler.
Sometimes on patrol we would see our counterpart Czech guards across the way. Against our orders we would occasionally wave and they would wave back. Once one pulled out his rifle and started using it as an air-guitar to show he could rock like the best of us. We all laughed and he laughed back. Of course he was a communist and we weren’t supposed to talk to them, but no one really enforced the rules on smiling, waving, or using your weapon as an instrument of Heavy Metal play-acting. We had what fun we could. I hoped I would never have to shoot him. That was the rule though, if someone was trying to escape across the border we could not do anything until they hit West German soil, then if the Czech guards continued firing we were suppose to open up on them.
I was in Prague Monday. I visited the Communist Museum and everything about it made me want to go against the tide of sentiments I see back home among the American Saints. I’m sorry to say it, and you will likely find this offensive, but I think the world is becoming a better place. Jan Egeland, The former UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and former UN Emergency Relief Chief, in his book A Billion Lives: An Eyewitness Report form the Frontlines of Humanity thinks so too. He’s seen the worst of humanity. He was on the ground at Darfur. He’s negotiated with Revolutionary Armed forces of Colombia. He’s been on the ground brokering peace in the Middle East. He was on-site organizing UN efforts at the Tsunami in Indonesia. But he writes:
I am convinced that for the majority of people, the world is getting better. There is more peace, more people are fed an educated, and fewer are forced to become refugees than a generation ago—in spite of the halfhearted investment by rich and powerful nations.
Terrorism wins only when they create, well, terror. And they’ve done a great job of getting people to buy into their agenda, especially during the last eight years. But not me. No more. I’m drawing a line. I’m going to be happy, optimistic and joyful despite remaining problems. Yes, by all means, run around with ‘financial crisis’, ‘growing evil’, ‘everyone be afraid’ blah blah blah on you lips. But I’m not listening anymore. I’m not going to spin in circles, fearful of others, seeing evil everywhere I turn, stockpiling supplies, and guarding them with my gun. No I’m done with those of you giving terrorists what they want. I’ve had my fill of ‘be afraid’ and ‘please panic at this time’ and ‘this is an evil time’. I see a breathtaking world growing better and better all the time. Amazing things are happening everywhere. Forgive my optimism but there is too much good going on the world to give into fear. Sorry to disappoint.
I know we are supposed to be about doom and gloom. Fear is the message we give each other. It’s condition Orange (whatever that means) in the Chicago airport and they remind you about every 10 minutes. But I can’t help but see things improving and improving in important ways. Yes the message everywhere is to be afraid, be very afraid. The world is in crisis and you should be panicking right now. We are so distracted with trivialities and convinced this or that is a sign of evil and damnation we are forgetting what an amazing time we live, how much freedom we enjoy, how much has changed for the good despite persistent and evident setbacks. There is great cause to rejoice in this world! Things are just not just going down hill. There are as many reasons for hope as there are for fear and despair.
Prague is now a vibrant, happening place. Even more of me than my foot was able to visit this time. There was a lot going on that could have never happened back when I was guarding the border. So, there it is. Fear if you want. Panic and run around screaming at how bad things are and shake your clenched fist at the growing evil in the world. If you are determined to be afraid, carry on. I’m done. I’m seeing things from another perspective and the future looks so bright and shiny I feel like dancing. Maybe I’m just playing air-guitar on an impassible border, but, hey, it has to start somewhere.