Though there are large gaps in my memory from my school years, I do remember that Mrs. Cole said we would all be happy by now. I remember her saying that and I remember it had been enough for my attention to drift away from the middle of a daydream. It’s seldom that reality is magical enough to trump fantasy, but that did.
Mrs. Cole called it The Age of Man (the name itself would sound magical enough to any seventh-grader), and she said it was nearing. Science and technology had planted seeds, she said. Had planted them for hundreds of years. And those seeds were growing even then, sprouting upwards and strong. And she said we would be the ones to harvest.
We. You and I.
This being the mid-eighties, Mrs. Cole qualified that statement by saying it would all be for naught if the Russkies started lobbing ballistic missiles at us from Moscow. She didn’t think that would happen, which I’m sure prevented more than a couple nightmares that night from the other kids in her class. We’d all pull through, she said. And more, we would all be blessed with a life that was far more glorious and far less painful. Medical advances would ensure that disease was eradicated. Life expectancy would rise past the century mark. Science would solve problems like famine and global warming. Reason would replace ignorance, ushering in a new golden age of peace.
The hungry would be fed.
The naked would be clothed.
We would long for nothing.
And on. And on.
That all sounded pretty good to me. Even now I remember that as one of the best days of school I ever had. I couldn’t wait for The Age of Man.
I suppose we’re still waiting. Almost thirty years later, not much has really changed. Science and technology have done a lot, no doubt about that, though it seems there’s always a catch. The Russkies have been replaced. The hungry are still hungry. The naked are still cold.
But maybe more than any of that, we still long.
I suppose Mrs. Cole has gone to her reward by now. I’m not sure if she puttered along long enough to see that she’d been wrong. A part of me wishes not. I think we should all pass on with hope still in our hearts, whatever hope that may be.
Had I been wise back then—had I known what I know now—I like to think I’d have raised my hand and gotten the chance to speak that day. I would have told Mrs. Cole that science and technology can do a great many things, but the faith we would come to place in them would be a faltering one. I’d tell her that deep down, we’re all drawn to a brighter sort of magic. We will always be more charmed by what could be than what is. Because we are made to long and wonder and ponder the Mystery, and the Mystery is something that no science and no technology can ever really answer.
That’s what I would tell her.
And then I’d say what Mrs. Cole has no doubt discovered for herself—that the whole of earth is still the very least of heaven.