Sunday, April 11, 2010

End of Another Era

This morning, about 20 miles from where I live, the shell of Texas Stadium was imploded.

I say "shell" because the interior stuff had been scooped out of the place months ago.

So if you looked at the structure from the outside (which I did yesterday — I happened to be in Irving and I drove past the stadium), the appearance was pretty much what it had always been.

Didn't look much different than it did a year ago, when they had been clearing out the seats and the artificial turf — and I took the picture you can see to the right.

It was the end of an era that attracted thousands of people who simply had to be there at the crack of dawn on a Sunday. Most long–term area residents seem to have even modest attachments to the almost–a–dome with that funny (and instantly recognizable) hole in the roof, and many clearly felt compelled to be there. They may not have been there about 40 years ago, when ground was first broken, but they could be there today, when it all came down.

My objective is not to reminisce. I've done that already.

Instead, I've been thinking about transitions, comings and goings, beginnings and endings. I hope this is coherent and meaningful. I hope I don't ramble.

It's odd. Today, I've been thinking about my mother and my grandmothers. All three died years after Texas Stadium opened in 1971. So did numerous friends — including a personal friend of mine who died of cancer nearly 20 years ago. He was maybe the most devoted Cowboy fan I have ever known.

And I've been asking myself a strange question: How would I explain to them what had happened to Texas Stadium? And then I remember. I won't have to explain it to any of them — because they won't be coming back. Those periods in my life are over.

I don't know why that thought crossed my mind, but it has done so before. September 11 comes to mind. I remember watching the news reports that night, seeing the Twin Towers collapse over and over again, and remembering times when my mother and one of her oldest friends went to New York together. They went to art museums together and saw shows together.

"How can I explain this to Mom?" I asked myself over and over again. And over and over again, I gave myself the reply: "She's been gone for more than six years."

I guess it is a logical extension of another mental phenomenon I have experienced. I guess this happens to other people, too. And it's probably nothing more than a sign that one is getting older. I was thinking about the days when I used to play touch football with the boys who lived near me. I will think to myself, I couldn't do that now. And a sense of sadness will wash over me. And then I will mentally admonish myself — how long has it been since you played touch football? It's been quite awhile, I will admit to myself. I couldn't play kickball now, either, although I played it every day when I was about 7 or 8.

That era, too, has left my life forever. And that's the natural order of things. But that doesn't keep me from wishing I could go back— at times.

An old high school classmate of mine is a physics professor now, and he has speculated, in both public lectures and private conversations, about time travel. It is, he has said, "the science of the impossible," whereas he spends his days teaching his students about the "science of the possible." It seems like a classic contradiction, doesn't it, even though he acknowledges that time travel does, in fact, exist — because we are living, we are constantly moving forward into the future. We just haven't mastered the act of going back into the past.

That's probably what makes it such fertile ground for stories. The concept, after all, formed the basis of some very successful movies starring Michael J. Fox in recent times, but you could find the same theme in books that were written in the 19th century by Mark Twain and H.G. Wells.

Time travel does make a good story. And today seems to be a particularly good time to reflect on that, and not just because Texas Stadium, which was still standing when I got up this morning in time to watch the implosion on TV, is no more.

I've always had an interest in history, and April 11 is filled with historic moments that I would like to go back in time to witness.

For example, on this day in 1865, Abraham Lincoln gave the last speech of his life. The South had surrendered a couple of days earlier, and Lincoln spoke of his vision of a postwar America. He advocated voting rights for blacks, which persuaded John Wilkes Booth to assassinate him a few days later.

I'd like to go back and observe Booth as he listened to the speech. Booth, a Confederate sympathizer, had originally planned to kidnap Lincoln and use him to bargain with the North for the release of prisoners of war, but Lincoln's speech changed his mind. When he listened to the speech, was he already furious about the South's surrender? Or did he become furious as he listened to the speech?

Certainly, Lincoln's death was a transitional moment in 19th–century America, but the speech he gave on this date put the wheels in motion. At least, that's what we've been told. But what was Booth's state of mind as he listened to Lincoln's words?

Fast forward 40 years. On this day in 1905, Albert Einstein introduced his theory of relativity. He did so in a paper titled "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies," which was published about 2½ months later. And, while Einstein wrote about many ideas that had been suggested by others, he did propose a new theory of time, distance, mass and energy in his paper that continues to influence the thinking of scientists like my friend. It would be interesting to talk to him and learn the doubts he may have had. He was a man. He must have had some doubts. But his studies marked the beginning of a new era in physics.

My parents and their friends were alive on this day in 1945, but I wasn't. And I'd like to see how the Americans reacted when they liberated Buchenwald concentration camp, one of the largest and deadliest in Germany. But it was deadly mostly because the prisoners were neglected, not because they were executed (although there were those as well).

Buchenwald wasn't designed for mass executions. The soldiers wouldn't have encountered the equipment that Allied soldiers found at other camps, but there were records of prisoners who died because of the monstrous medical experiments that were conducted at Buchenwald. No doubt there were prisoners there who bore the scars of other experiments.

And medical conditions, like infections, went untreated. It could be said that most of the deaths in most of the wars that have been fought were unnecessary, but that would be especially true of most of the people who died at Buchenwald. When most of them died, it was not intentional — and that almost surely meant long and agonizing deaths. If anything good can be said about the camps where executions were carried out on a large scale, it is that the execution–oriented camps were designed to be quick and efficient. Those who perished at Buchenwald tended to do so painfully. How did the soldiers respond to what they saw there?

For that matter, I would like to observe Franklin D. Roosevelt on this day in 1945. I'd like to see how he responded to the news of the liberation of Buchenwald — and any other war–related news. FDR died the next day. That really was the end of an era.

Not all the leaders of Nazi Germany were taken into custody in the spring of 1945, and some escaped international justice altogether. But on this day in 1961, Adolf Eichmann, often said to be "the architect of the Holocaust," stood trial in Jerusalem. He was a fugitive for 15 years, then he was captured in May 1960, eventually convicted of crimes against humanity and then executed. What was his demeanor on this day 49 years ago? Did he suspect what the ultimate outcome would be?

And, knowing what I know now, I'd like to travel back to this day in 1970, when Apollo 13 began its ill–fated trip to space. It was supposed to go to the moon, but the mission changed when an oxygen tank ruptured. That happened a couple of days later. I'd like to see what the mood was like the day of the liftoff. Did most people take space travel for granted, the way they did before the space shuttle disasters of 1986 and 2003?

I admit it. I'd like to be able to travel through time. As a student of history, I'd like to witness all those things — but I wouldn't want to do anything more than observe. I heard enough about what happens if you interfere with that time–space continuum thing in the "Back to the Future" flicks.

Part of the fabric of time is woven from the eras that come and go in our lives. As we get older, we may think of eras we've been through and wish we could go back and change things we said or did. We may think of a deceased parent or grandparent and wish we could resolve something that will remain unresolved forever.

Or we may long for the days when deceased relatives and friends were alive and with us. For my part, I never envisioned a life without my mother until she was no longer with us — and, by that time, it was too late.

Well, in the long run, I guess it doesn't really matter. A couple of months ago, I wrote about the relative insignificance of earth in the infinity of space. It was 20 years after Voyager 1 sent back a picture of the "pale blue dot" that our planet is when seen from a distance of more than 3.5 billion miles.

Kind of puts things in perspective, doesn't it? It sure did for Carl Sagan, as you can see in the attached video.

And I think Sagan, who died in 1996, would agree with my friend. Time travel is possible. We're doing it right now.

But the problem is that time goes by so quickly.

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