The Day the Earth Changed

I was walking in Central Park in New York City when I saw the sunbathers and picknickers all stand up at the same moment, gather their blankets, baskets and families, and move outwards, leaving an empty circle with a diameter twice the length of a football field. This circle wasn’t demarcated by anything other than the people who now sat down with their baskets and blankets at the new edge. Their silent migration resembled how ripples move outwards from a stone thrown into a lake. But there had been no stone.

Images from that afternoon still haunt me; the silence; the weird coordination of movement; no one looking at each other until they had settled back down–as if nothing unusual had occurred.

I was hundreds of yards away when all those people stood up. And I stood rooted to the spot for a long time after they resettled themselves.

When I finally raised my eyes above the horizon of skyscrapers and trees, I saw a gigantic ship hovering a few thousand feet above the ground. As I watched, it descended, landed on the grass, and deployed a ramp.

I found it weird that people had immediately resumed talking and playing their radios. When a Frisbee sailed toward the ship, it changed direction and returned to the thrower like a boomerang.

I caught the eyes of a man standing nearby and after a few moments he shrugged, as if he had seen it all before, and then turned and headed out of the park.

When I looked toward the ship again, the image had grown dim, and after a few minutes there was nothing visible but an empty circle of grass. I wondered if it had left and whether people would start sitting down in that part of the park again. Curious, I walked toward the empty space. At first, I seemed to be able to pass beyond the periphery of the picknickers. But after a few steps, I started to feel like I was walking into a stiff gale. I didn’t run into anything, but soon I couldn’t move my foot another inch. I continued to struggle, until I found myself walking out of the park. And I didn’t look back until I was back in my 7th floor apartment.

That was 20 years ago. The news never reported that an alien craft had landed in the middle of New York City. And I have had two decades to notice that the world utterly changed that day.

The world has changed in a way that is discontinuous from what it was. Suddenly, there was new technology with no research and development behind it. Suddenly, the floods and fires that had been ravaging the planet were replaced by rain falling wherever it was needed. Gigantic agribusiness has given way to family farms. When I mention gas-driven vehicles, people just stare at me. A new and better normal has appeared within my lifetime. But I worry that the human race didn’t earn this deliverance. Our behavior was destroying our planet; and we never changed it. Someone or something else took over; and now we have joined the cows and chickens to live with the new freedoms that they too enjoy. But I miss the greater freedom that we once had and threw away.

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