All Pop wants is to cross the border for a few hours to visit a relative. You wouldn't think that's asking too much. But it is.
A distant cousin lives in a St Catherine nursing home, just across the Canadian border. We run up to visit her once a year or so – my brother, Pop, and myself. A driver's license and birth certificate has always sufficed for crossing the border. (or rather, for return crossing, back into the U.S.) But, as of last June, only an “enhanced” license will do – that or a passport. With only minor fuss, my brother and I obtained ours, but no such luck for Pop. State (and perhaps Federal) clerks looked askance at his out-of-state birth certificate from the 1920's – it's old and crumbly – you have to handle it as if it were an ancient Bible manuscript. And....is it a certificate or just a 'notice'? And....does it have a raised seal or is it just a flat one? Go get another one, they tell him.
But record-keeping in New Jersey wasn't so hot 90 years ago, and the department has changed hands or moved any number of times since. They don't seem able to come up with anything to readily satisfy New York. Yes, for a certain fee and substantial inconvenience, if Pop can dig up some old coot whose been around forever, who knows him from long ago, and who can testify that, yes – Pop is indeed a person, he was born here, he is a citizen, and if you can get that person to testify to that effect before a notary, then the wheels of progress can slowly move ahead once more. But the old coots are dead, or far away and long forgotten. The guys Pop hangs with now, bowling and golfing buddies, for the most part, don't go back that far. They can testify he throws a good strike ball, but not much else.
Pop's been on the phone with a series of persons, but he gets frustrated with the layers of bureaucracy he must plow through, and he gives them a piece of his mind. (no doubt ringing alarm bells everywhere) “I've had a driver's license for 70 years,” he grouses. “I fought in the world war. At my age, I shouldn't have to prove anything to anyone.”
'Why don't you take charge yourself, Sheepandgoats?' one might ask. 'Why don't you help him out?' Yeah, well, maybe that will happen. But it's not so easy as it sounds, for Pop is quite competent. He takes pride in being self-sufficient, and doesn't like to be helped....might not accepting help imply he is helpless? Besides, would I do any better? I've had my own struggles with (local) bureaucracy, untangling an ancient web regarding property rights, which also entailed tracking down old coots who could remember how things used to be, parading them to the bank notary public, hiring a lawyer (who opined that submitted documents had only to “weigh enough”) and persuading certain other interested parties that there was nothing more to be done till the gods of real estate had spoken.
Moreover, I've had my own border trouble. It happened some months after 911, as Mrs Sheepandgoats and I were driving home from Quebec City. Rounding the final bend on Rt 137, a long long line at the NY-Canadian border came into view - endless cars waiting for customs. 'Rats!' muttered I to my wife, and then 'well, as long as I have to sit here, I'll read the newsmagazine in the car trunk.' But as I opened the trunk I noticed all eyes in the control booths ahead were upon me. 'Sheepandgoats, you idiot!' Now they think I'm hiding drugs – they'll tear the car apart!
So I waited my forty five minutes, and when it came my turn, the first words from the officer's mouth were: “what were you doing in your trunk?” Getting something to read, I said, adding I instantly knew it was a mistake and they'd all be thinking I was hiding drugs. “Drugs, hell!” the fellow snapped back. “One wrong move and you would have been shot!” That's how it was after 911. They were edgy there at the border, cautious, supposing I might emerge from the trunk with a machine gun.
Now, we don't complain, mind you. Well....Pop does a little...it's more evidence that 'the world has gone to hell in a handbasket,' he grumbles. But I know it's all a consequence of terror and the “war on terror.” People die or are maimed all the time through terror, so it's hardly sporting to gripe over a just a bit of inconvenience, even though we live in America, are all spoiled, and have long taken our “rights” for granted. One must keep things in perspective. Still, when Tom Whitepebble was a boy in Niagara Falls, NY, he'd routinely walk across the bridge to Canada and back, after a day of fun at the falls, and nobody asked him anything. Nobody had to see any papers at all.
I write this just after police have arrested some fellow who'd hoped to blow up Times-Square with a car bomb. It might have been a much bigger story, complete with dead bodies and burning buildings – T-S is always mobbed with people - had not his crude bomb fizzled. Such events are routine in the world but (so far) relatively rare in the U.S. Who of my generation would ever have imagined it would come to this, that killing civilians indiscriminately would come into vogue, and even strapping on bombs and delighting to die if only you can take out a dozen or two with you. Tell me....you really don't think it's not evidence that “in the last days” people will be “fierce,” and without “natural affection?” (2 Tim 3:3) And did the July Watchtower really say that the recent upsurge in graphic movie, TV, game and media violence might be a satanic ploy, stoking people up for fratricidal warfare?
It steadily escalates. In Russia, “two female suicide bombers killed at least 38 people on packed Moscow metro trains on Monday, stirring fears of a broader campaign in Russia's heartland by Islamists from the North Caucasus,” says the March 29th Washington Post. They call these female bombers “black widows,” and they've struck many times, with great loss of life. They've generally lost all their menfolk to war and all their womenfolk have been raped. They're pretty much crazed, without any social net to fall back into, and it's a sinch to recruit them for suicide missions. The Post names a certain Chechen “warlord” who, a decade ago, “pioneered” the use of women to strike civilian targets. And why? Reprisals for the 1940s transportation of Chechens to Central Asia, with enormous loss of life, by dictator Josef Stalin. [70 years ago!] In recent decades, Islamist militants have joined the fray, giving it new import.
Now, horrible as such grievances are, in past decades people weathered equal atrocities without suffering destruction of their natural affection for humankind. It often broke them, it often broke faith in God, it often left them with hatred for the perpetrators, but not for humankind in general. Jews and other emerged from WWII concentration camps, for example, without dedicating their future lives to revenge, or at least revenge against non-involved persons. A century before that, blacks in this country similarly emerged from brutalizing slavery without goals of hatred and vengeance to all. But times are different today. People are surrounded by hate, and when they escape from one hate-filled situation, they simply enter another one. There is no respite. There is no consolation. It ought to be quite clear that this world produces and promises to produce no end of persons like the Chechen black widows, so increasing violence seems absolutely assured, until God brings about an end to the entire system of things, a forerunner to ushering in his own kingdom.
Under such circumstances, one doesn't gripe about inconveniences at the border. It's more or less to be expected.