I have been editing, line for line, “The Smash-Up Kid,” a play about pioneer aviator Art Smith. I also wrote his biography (2003: McFarland & Company). Designated as an official Indiana Bicentennial event, the play will be read later this year. Art Smith was an adult when America entered World War I, so as I was doing research about him and that war, the one historians call “The Great War,” I was appalled by how many millions of lives were lost in various battles alone. For instance, when in 1916, the French and the British fought the Germans along the Somme River in northern France, on that first day alone, 19,240 British soldiers were killed. France lost 1,590 men, and the Germans lost of between 10,000 to 12, 000. An entire generation of young men died.
Could such a thing ever happen again? Yes, it did. In subsequent wars—WW II, especially. Wiesel experienced it. Shoemyen experienced it, as did Roosevelt and other world figures. Mothers, fathers, and people of all stripes and persuasions experienced it. Life became upside down. Events spun out of control. As W.B. Yeats put it in his poem, “things fall apart: the center cannot hold.”
But this is not to be a pessimistic commentary. Even as Garrison Keillor hosted his last Prairie Home Companion, the end is not here. Even as my congregation said goodbye to a good minister, the end is not here. Even as newscasters report natural disasters and terrorist attacks, the end is not here.
Watching five year-old children at play, racing around on their bikes, whoops of joy in their laughter, idealism in their crayoned drawings, and stars in their eyes, we treasure their gifts of the spirit. There are those who leave us and we will remember them dearly, but there also are those who arrive on the scene.