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What goes around...

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

This is based on a reminiscence made at New Year’s Day 1984 and demonstrates that – as usual -- “What goes around comes around….”
Picture, for a moment, your school days' diagram of the earth orbiting the sun, and note that its path has no milestones, no square marked "Go" that signals the beginning of a new year.

It was humankind, not God, that divided the endless ellipse into months and years with beginnings and ends, to account for the apparent rebirth of the sun.
Even that is arbitrary.
With the arrogance of those who consider themselves in charge, it was northern Europeans who reasoned that, as the days become longer, a new year begins.
If the Southern Hemisphere had produced the scientists who decide these matters, New Year's Day would come about the first of July instead of January, when the days are actually becoming shorter in Australia.
Nonetheless, here we are again, at that moment of the year that begs contemplation. If indeed the enumeration is arbitrary that distinguishes today from tomorrow then there is little difference between today and tomorrow, little difference between 1924 and 20.

Thus pondering my lack of precognition, I paged through old columns (saved in albums in the days before electronic archiving) and found one I wrote about how different the reality of 1984 was from the predictions of Orwell's dark novel.
If truth be told, I never actually read "1984." My concept of the World of Tomorrow was no doubt based more on futuristic comic strips and movies than on political prognostications.
As a teen, I pictured a world of stainless steel homes, minarets soaring above the clouds, personal anti-gravitational transports whisking us about, food prepackaged so that a meal would be a simple matter of rehydration, without the labor-intensive chopping-measuring-heating-timing-stirring process we called "cooking."

We'd hop a spaceship for a weekend on Mars, and when we died -- if we died -- we'd be frozen for future retrieval. Illness, of course, like poverty, would be abolished.
In my fantasy-future, there'd be no old buildings, old furniture, old cars, nothing old at all, revered or reviled. We'd wear luminous shiny metallic clothes that required the services of neither sheep or cotton fields.
Well, here I was at the threshold of 1984, my column continued, and the moments were being counted down by a grandfather clock that has been in the family since 1921.
"We cherish that which is old and beautiful in our lives," I wrote, "and I can't see us discarding our grandmothers' cane-bottomed rocking chairs or our mothers' china just because chrome furniture and squeezable pouches of nutrients are available.
"And what woman will give up the fun of shopping in a mall (as her grandmother did in a marketplace) for the convenience of shopping-by-computer?" Mind you, I wrote that before one in four households even thought of a personal computer, much less had their own.

I missed entirely that for many of us some of the old cooking chores would be rediscovered when machines like bread-makers made them more appealing than ever.
And that the world would literally be at our fingertips through the miracle of the Internet -- not to mention instantaneous communication with loved ones on other continents.
"Leukemia and other killers will be banished, like polio and smallpox. Yet the faces of hungry children will haunt us as they do today while we plan our holiday feasts."
What I wouldn't give to have been right about the first of those statements, and wrong about the second.
God knew what God was doing, I said, by keeping the curtain drawn between present and future. Bad enough we can remember some parts of the past -- holocausts, wars, separation within families -- without also knowing what is to come.

But, I concluded, it wasn't so bad, 1984, just arriving. Not like we were led to believe in 1949.
And when the 20th century yields to the 21st, and my grandmother's chair still rocks before a glowing hearth (I didn't think then of gas-logs), I'll still be trying to see through the gauzy veil of time.
"Looking back for guidance to the past -- today -- we will take comfort that for every change for the worse, there were at least as many for the better," I wrote.
Was I right? I'm not sure. Tell me what you think about past and future, whether you hope or despair.

[Sallie Satterthwaite of Peachtree City has been writing for The Citizen since our first issue Feb. 10, 1993. Before that she had served as a city councilwoman and as a volunteer emergency medical technician. She is the only columnist we know who has a fire station named for her. Her email is]

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