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Options Expended, Last Card Played, Hopelessness Now Reigns

A battle against both nature and man.

“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death….”

—William Shakespeare
Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 19-23)

In the darkness, the drum of the rain on the roof is incessant. It must be approximately midnight, the living room lit only by dim candle fire, the electricity lost to wind-downed limbs hours ago. With the sump pump useless, the water is rising in the basement garage and my concern magnifies regarding the goods in the fridge and freezer if this continues through tomorrow. Which it may, since Kansas Power and Light could give no estimate when power would be restored—and the weather forecast is for rain through noon next day. The sudden outage crashed the computer, so that might also be ruined. With the A/C off, I’m anxious about my wife’s COPD. And sitting on the couch in the humid night, fruitlessly groping in my mind for alternatives, I’m a man given over to the sticky sweat of desperation.

I’m reflecting on an article just forwarded to me yesterday by my columnist friend A. J. Cameron. Written by the author Michael Snyder, it depicted a sobering premonition Snyder experienced one recent Saturday that “something had shifted and that now things had become much more serious.” The next morning he and his wife learned of the sudden and unexpected death of a relative; however, he felt that this was only a foretaste of something much larger and globally encompassing, this feeling he had portending a disastrous circumstance sweeping across humankind. He then went on to relate in graphic detail the tragic economic conditions presently gripping Venezuela: the starving children, the protests, the looting, the utility breakdowns, the monetary destruction. And he predicted the chaos would spread like a virus, exponentially infecting other nations, even the U. S.

A. J., in introducing the Snyder article, described a similar experience he had when driving home awhile back on Highway 50 near Tipton, Missouri, listening to the radio. When he heard the initial announcement about the Domestic Terrorist Profile, an abrupt sense of deep misgiving descended over him. As he explained, “I’ve had mini occurrences since [that occasion], that only reinforced what I felt on that fateful day. We are told we know not the hour, nor the day, and I don’t know what will happen, or when it will happen, but, when it does, I believe it is going to dwarf anything previously known to mankind.”

So, sitting helplessly in the wet night, conjuring up worst-case scenarios, I allow my own mind free rein to pursue a similar channel with these two other writers. What if, I consider, tonight’s circumstance were the result of a true electromagnetic-pulse event that decimated the grid? An event that left most of the U.S. without electrical power, computers, transportation, communication or public utilities for months on end? The book One Second After by William R. Forstchen reveals what such an eventuality would entail, and it’s horrifying. Real reversion to “Dark-Age stuff.”

I ponder how we humans live our daily lives mostly under the illusion of a “given status quo.” But, really, we’re always on the edge. Barbara, one of the Wendy’s breakfast group, forgot her cane inside the gas station the other day and as she returned from the car to retrieve it, she fell and broke her leg. At her age, her survival is questionable. Doug, one of the bank’s coffee-club members, choked when eating dinner and got food in his lung. He developed pneumonia and three days later died. Vernon, another bank-club member, woke up recently with a blood clot in his lung. After hospitalization and rehab, he’s now on oxygen and not able to attend group meetings any longer.

I tried out the dollar breakfast and free coffee at Ikea the other morning, selecting a table by the window with an expansive view of Shawnee Mission. As I was leaving, I glanced around at the tables of diners—young couples with babies, retirees chatting, girls and boys laughing and teasing one another. The human community engaged in the joy of living. Then I thought how in so many places in the world right now such a harmonious gathering could be, with one dynamite vest, converted in a flash to mangled, bloody carnage. What kind of god, I asked myself, does one conceive worth worshiping who would be pleased with such wanton destruction of his creation? Nevertheless, the infamy endures. We’re always on the edge, whether we know it or not.

I contemplate the state of the nation at present. The tornados, the floods, the fires. Of course, there’re now super bugs impervious to antibiotics, and the Zika virus on the march. Still, the worst thing imaginable is where we as a nation now stand politically. The campaign season began as an entertaining circus, evolved into surprising drama, morphed into the unbelievable, and now has entered the full-blown tragic stage. I simply can’t logically process the grievous choices the American people have allowed themselves to be forced into. Or the voters’ ignorance of history.

The editors at The Kansas City Star titled Kathleen Parker’s most recent column “United No More, America Is on the Brink.” And the callout read, “Democracy, freedom, civilization—it all hangs by a thread.” Snyder and Cameron are in good company here.

In any event, the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald cautioned about thinking too much in the middle of the night when he penned, “But at three o’clock in the morning, a forgotten package has the same tragic importance as a death sentence, and the cure doesn’t work—and in a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day.” So, are we now facing our planet’s collective “dark night of the soul”? Or will the lights come back on tomorrow? If we really are approaching “the last syllable of recorded time,” have we no one to blame but ourselves?

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Mark Scheel
Mark Scheel grew up in east-Kansas farm country. He attended both Kansas State University and The University of Kansas, majoring in psychology and English. Prior to writing full time he served overseas with the American Red Cross in Vietnam, Thailand, West Germany and England, taught at Emporia State University and was an information specialist with the Johnson County Library in Shawnee Mission, Kansas. His stories, articles and poems have appeared in numerous magazines including The Little Balkans Review, Kansas Quarterly, The Cincinnati Poetry Review, The Kansas City Star, Heritage of Kansas, Samisdat, and Poet as well as many sites online such as Common Ground News. His literary activities have also involved membership in The Kansas Authors Club, a seat on the board of directors for Potpourri Publications Company and an editorial position with Kansas City Voices magazine. He co-authored the book Of Youth and the River: the Mississippi Adventure of Raymond Kurtz, Sr., and his collection of stories and poems, A Backward View, was awarded the 1998 J. Donald Coffin Memorial Book Award. His most recent book is titled The Pebble: Life, Love, Politics and Geezer Wisdom.

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