“What happened in 1978?” I needed to know and a mere four numbers typed into Google Search gave me some answers.
The year did not begin with promising prospects of peace and prosperity. In January alone, 213 people died in an Indian plane crash, a Chile referendum approved Pinochet’s dictatorial rule, Pedro Cardenal criticized the Nicaraguan government and was assassinated, a blizzard in Ohio killed 70, and serial killer Ted Bundy killed two more women in a sorority house in Florida.
February began with film director Roman Polanski skipping bail and fleeing after pleading guilty to having sex with a 13-year old girl, another blizzard killed 100 in New England and another plane crashed in British Colombia killing 40. There was a terrorist hotel bombing in Sydney, Australia and the Hillside Strangler, another serial killer, claimed his 10th victim.
On March 1, someone stole Charlie Chaplin’s remains, and before the month was out, porn publisher Larry Flynt was shot and paralyzed, Rhodesia attacked Zambia, the Prime Minister of Pakistan was sentenced to death by hanging for ordering the assassination of a political opponent and there was a terrorist attack at the New Tokyo International Airport.
And so the year continues. More murders, wars, terrorist attacks, earthquakes, a mass suicide in Jonestown and San Francisco mayor George Moscone and Superviser Harvey Milk murdered by Dan White. On Christmas day, Vietnam launched a major offensive against the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia.
Pick any year (including this last one) and the news will be the same — natural disasters, personal and collective murders, political disasters, the full catastrophe of the 10,000 ways human beings fall short and life proves itself dangerous, undependable and uncaring about the effects of gale force storms, fires and shifting tectonic plates.
In short, killing, crashing, craving, catastrophe is basically business as usual. The news is nothing new at all— it’s the norm. So the real news is when all is working well, when people actually have a nice day, when they surprise themselves with what they can achieve and each other by unexpected acts of kindness. Seen through this lens, the TV cameras should have come rushing to my school when they got the tip that 3rd grader Will learned to finally skip today. When 8th grader Evelyn who constantly left class to hide in the bathroom mastered her bass bar part and stayed the whole class. When Lucy composed a lovely piece on the soprano metallophone and Andres stayed patiently next to his partner on the vibraphone helping him master his part.
Those would be the headlines in my newspaper. And then, in a small paragraph on the back page, a little notice:
Some people were once again shaved by a drunken barber, some poorly-sighted folks led innocent followers into a ditch and some traded another inch of precious time for useless dollars. No need to name them all— just keep them in your thoughts.