Chapter 1 - Snowflakes
Chapter 1 - Snowflakes
On the plane crossing the Atlantic I convinced myself that I was glad for the chance to make a real difference in the world again, no matter how small that difference might be. I felt the same feeling that I had felt in Venice where we had made a difference in a big way, all of us together. I felt that the Moscow conference might have the potential to be another one of those rare opportunities at which the destiny of the world could be 'uplifted' if the right ideas prevailed. I saw my invitation as a privilege, a rare opportunity to be able to be in the middle of it all where history was being made. I even fancied myself as an ambassador from our beach project with a chance for putting the imprint of our leading edge discoveries into the ever-changing sands that are marked by the course of mankind. History seemed to be that way, a pattern of choices, a mirror of intentions that shaped the world. Momentous events happened in history, but like the footprints in the sands of the seashores, the pattern became eroded with the changing tides. The great events tend to be preserved only in picture albums and storybooks that gather dust on so many shelves and are rarely opened to be relived.
I felt that history should be brought into the future. History isn't a flow of water that passed down a stream and will always flow in the same manner. Human history is something that was made by human beings and was directed for a purpose, right or wrong, which means that it can flow differently when the purpose is upgraded. We learn from the past, not to repeat history, though we often do, but to create a different world that reflects our changing intentions that unfold with new discoveries about ourselves and our potential in creating a New World. And so we make new history in the continuing story of our growing up as children of a universal humanity leaving our footprints in the sand of time.
In that light the Moscow conference came with a promise attached, though it all turned out differently than I had hoped, less encouraging, more sobering, more humbling. Our history, unfortunately, is littered with far too many grand opportunities left unrealized that were squandered by people with little minds and nearsighted vision. I was aware of this, but never dreamed that I would follow that pathetic course as I did, with one exception that seemed to absolve my fumbling. When the plane touched down in Moscow and taxied across the field of blowing snow amidst a maze of other planes, I felt small suddenly and impotent in this vast icy world of theirs. What could I accomplish that hadn't already been attempted a thousand times in the past, when nothing had been attained? What could I contribute that would be new and exciting, that would shake the world, that would make the 'deserts bloom?'
Once we got off the plane my outlook changed. A totally different feeling came over me on the way to the gate. We were welcomed like VIPs there. Everyone on our aircraft who had come for the conference was given the VIP treatment. Perhaps it was all just protocol. Perhaps it was all fake. Technically speaking, we were on enemy territory. Still, some of the welcome seemed real. In the arrivals lobby a reception center had been set up for us with six desks. I noticed a dedicated 'English Desk' among others. A young woman with long dark hair, dressed in a black jump suit, staffed the English welcoming desk. She was quite a picture to behold. She introduced herself as our interpreter, tour guide, supply officer for anything and everything, and organizer-in-chief of whatever special events we had in mind.
"Anything, really?" I asked.
"Anything at all!" she replied promptly, "just ask."
My first reaction was that something didn't add up. What was at the root of it? Her clothing was by no means the run-of-the-mill Soviet State Uniform that one might expect, nor was it English. Was this an honest gesture by the Soviets? If it was, they had gone miles out of their way, so it seemed, to make us feel comfortable. But that wasn't their style. So, was it just another element of a game?
I figured that the woman might have been handpicked out of many for this particular assignment. Not only did she speak English fluently; she also looked somewhat English and had a touch of class about her that one might find at the heart of London if one looked for it long enough. In addition to that, she lacked nothing in charm to any woman in the world. What a treat the Russians had prepared for us, if that's what it was. It certainly went a long way to narrowing the East/West gap, at least on the personal level. Also, it reflected something of what Fred had talked about on the plane. She treated us as though we were family.
On the bus ride to the hotel a stout Scotsman sitting next to me, who might have made a fine circus announcer and never would have needed a microphone, commented on our tour guide; "Ladies and gentlemen, there is hope for ole Russia yet."
Everyone on the bus broke into laughter.
I grinned at him and nodded. Still, the laughter sounded hollow. I couldn't join the chorus. The situation that we faced was too serious for such a reaction. We needed to get results at this conference. Results were hard to inspire in a world where no one was committed to lay aside entrenched positions in exchange for the common good. It seemed to me that I was the only person on the bus who came with those high expectations, hoping against all odds that something significant might yet be achieved.
+ + +
The call for the conference had come as a surprise to us, and more so since my presence had been requested by name. It came just a few months after the Venice affair and after the unofficial grand opening celebration of our beach project back home in the last days of the summer. A great deal had changed in the world during the summer months. America had been under attack, but had defended itself. Then came the Venice conference as an opportunity to soften the Cold War. That too, had been a success. Even our beach-project hearing back home had been a success and had ended with a celebration. It seemed as if the whole world was going our way. However, this string of successes was deceptive. In terms of real progress we hadn't achieved anything. We were in a dreamlike trance that was all bright but largely meaningless. Our celebration at the beach, as the summer was coming to a close, should have been dubbed a celebration of innocence. We were so 'innocently' ignorant of the vast scope of the problems that our own advances had increased. Those advances seemed to have posed challenges that isolated us into a world of our own.
Steve might have been aware of the unfolding trend. He might have said so, and we hadn't heard him. Or he might have kept quiet about it all when he had been with us at our celebration, so as not to spoil our enthusiasm. We were exuberant then, though languishing in the sunshine of our successes as if the summer that drew to a close would never really end. But it did end.
Ross and Heather had invited all three of us, Tony, Sylvia, and I, to stay with them in their log house high above the beach as their guests, while our own 'castle by the sea' was being built. Our building had been started, but was interrupted many times when I was sent away on assignments. In this sense the 'summer' continued as it began with us all living together under one roof. Nor did any problems arise between us on the personal level, as one might have expected with five people being crammed into a log house, even if it was a huge place for a log house. The only problem that arose was that our scientific advances towards greater freedoms, socially and politically, had gradually isolated us from the world at large. The world hadn't changed, but we had. We had become freer and had moved ahead without really being aware of our advances. We had drawn ourselves away from society in that sense, which we were determined to elevate to a higher level of self-perception. In fact the resulting isolation of ourselves that reflected our physical isolation at the beach, had happened so gradually that none of us became aware of it.
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