Like many of us, I’m drawn to abandoned places. That’s why I’m sitting here on the only remaining wall of a ruined living room in South Texas. A great stone fireplace towers above me and I wonder, “What voices once filled this space? What dramas played out against this backdrop…”
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As we recently watched a commercial about the new F-150 Lightning—Ford’s first all-electric truck—I commented to my wife, “What a fascinating time to be alive!”
Isn’t that true for every generation, especially given the rapid evolution of technology?
My father shares his memory of the day his family first received electricity. They were living on a farm in Wisconsin during America’s Great Depression. A truck rumbled down their dirt road, unrolling a thick black cable, then fastened it to a central pole near the barn. My grandfather had placed a floodlight at the top, and when he turned on the power, my father still exclaims, “It was magic!” His parents allowed him and his brothers to stay up late, joining the fireflies as they cavorted in the artificial light on that late summer evening.
My father went on to a storied career, part of it as a key component of the Apollo program in the 1960s. Think of it: from rudimentary electricity to a man on the moon! And this dizzying evolution continues! Today, my dad holds a million times more computing power in his smartphone than all the computers that guided our first lunar missions.
The same accelerated technology is evident in the arc of my own life. Phones are a perfect example, as are “word-processing” options. I remember when IBM first released its Correcting Selectric II typewriter. I was enthralled. With a push of a button, I could go back to the typo, erase it with a special tape, then proceed with my manuscript. I was liberated from Liquid Paper! As a writer, I felt I had leaped a century ahead.
Think of your own life and the examples of monumental change. Project your thoughts forward and imagine what’s in store for our children and grandchildren, especially as artificial intelligence and the metaverse become realities.
Yet, despite all these “advances,” have human beings really changed that much? Don’t we nurture the same hopes, dreams and desires in our hearts? Aren’t there deep ties of love and grief that still bind us together across generations and millennia? Don’t we all experience the wonder of this life and gasp at its brevity? How can ancient spiritual teachers and holy texts still speak to our deepest longings unless our essential humanity has always cried out for the same answers?
As I said in one of my poems, The Dust…
and the air we breathe could be remnants from Caesar’s last gasp
or the final exhalation of Christ.
And the constellations that grace deep space
are the same seen by Cleopatra
and slaves in Confederate fields
and our ancestors from Olduvai Gorge
when they lifted their faces to the heavens.
Back to that moment in the forsaken living room…
I know this is part of what attracts us to these abandoned places. The whispers of lives from bygone eras. The knowledge that even the passage of time cannot completely severe our ties with those who have gone before us.
In an uncanny way, it’s a type of communion, something we can all feel if we settle into the ruins of history. And maybe, just maybe, it will increase our compassion for the living who still surround us.
Because, after all, the more things change, the more they stay the same…
Do you remember the typewriter that had memory. I was a secretary at that time and if helped me tremendously with my work. I am glad to be a Presbyterian too.