First Night: The Conflict Between Hope and Cynicism
Story by Dr. Lee Brazil
Foreword and Epilogue by:
Written by Ron Breazeale, Ph.D.
All Rights Reserved
The Ambassador Hotel
December 21, 2019, 8:16 A.M.
God is with those who are patient.
The Continental breakfast that came with the room was in a salon off the main dining room, Pastry, no scones, The French agreed with Lee. Dry cereal, breads, fruit and lots of stewed prunes. The French did know something about international travel. Lee chose the stewed prunes, the coffee, the orange juice, the croissant and granola — without a secret message — and yesterday’s The New York Times. Hard copies of a newspaper were hard to find. So, Lee would have to be pleased with yesterday’s news.
On the front page of The Times were the usual reports of bombing in Baghdad and rocket attacks in Israel, and a fairly long article about “UFO Mania.” According to The Times, there had been a number of sightings of unidentified flying objects across the globe. As usual, thank you, authorities had discounted these sightings. Weather balloons, the planet Venus, the Northern Lights, etc. The article concluded by saying that there had still been no reports of hard evidence of the existence of alien life forms.
Lee mumbled to himself, Well, I’m not sure of that.
There was also an article about Senator Clayton’s campaign, including endorsements from some of the old guard. It was still early in the campaign. The country was desperate for new leadership. But what was the average person willing to do? Were we just looking for another savior that we would reject after six months when all the items on our wish list had not been delivered?
As Lee started to tuck the paper under his arm, another article caught his attention, “TransSea and Hollocore Vie for Contract to Build Supercomputer.” This project had been developed originally by the European Union, which had fallen on hard times, and the United Kingdom, which was in not much better shape. They were looking to the United States for a new partner and new funding. The US had agreed to take on the project during its final phase. The American answer, of course, was to privatize the project and look for corporate partners.
The article talked about the benefits of developing a supercomputer. It would help the human race find a cure for the ills of old age. And if that wasn’t enough, human beings might someday become immortal by merging with one’s machine, with one’s computer.
“Merging with a computer,” Lee muttered to himself. Wish fulfillment on a grand scale for some people, I suppose. Cyborg mania! He chuckled. The article didn’t mention Senator Clayton and said nothing about the ethical challenges that would confront the human race if such a computer was developed. Instead, the article focused on the competition between TransSea and Hollocore to obtain the contract to build the computer. The companies were bitter rivals and had been for years.
The morning paper had not put Lee in a good mood. He tucked the paper under his arm. Merging with a computer? That’s sure in hell one thing I would not want to do. And life extension? Whose life would be extended? And whose wouldn’t? Who would decide? The computer?
Registration for the meeting was on the eighth floor. He didn’t want to be late. Lee didn’t recognize any of the people in the hall outside the meeting room. He picked up his registration packet and found a seat at one of the tables near the back of the room. A small group, maybe fifty. The program was billed as an update on current research on optimism, but the main focus was on the integration of the concepts of explanatory style into the day-to-day practice of medicine.
The program began promptly at nine o’clock. The group was a mix of practitioners, mostly from the United States and the United Kingdom, and an assortment of public health types, mainly from Western Europe. In the final years before his retirement, he had worked on an education project in which one of the main components was optimism. One of his old friends at the American Psychological Association had arranged for an invitation to the meeting.
Selling prevention had always been difficult, as the first speaker pointed out. There were usually no drug prescriptions that needed to be written or refilled repeatedly or expensive equipment to sell or procedures to bill out. The profit margin was small. Very small. Little money was to be made. So with healthcare, especially in the States, still being a for-profit venture, it was a hard sell.
But there were some signs of hope, as the second speaker pointed out. The United Kingdom had been investing heavily in training practitioners in cognitive behavioral approaches to treating depression rather than spending millions on psychotropic medications. Discussion was active and, at times, heated. Lee enjoyed it, almost forgetting his other purpose in being there. The morning session ended at 10:30. The luncheon would not begin until 12:30 P.M. More speakers and recognitions. There was time. Maybe, Lee thought, a walk, see a bit of Paris.
The registration area was crowded and noisy. The elevators were straight ahead. He didn’t think he would need an overcoat, so he decided not to go back to his room. As Lee waited for the elevator, out of the corner of his eye he saw the Eiffel Tower. He shook his head. “No. A walk would be best,” he mumbled under his breath. When it finally arrived, he stepped onto the elevator. It was crowded, but gradually people exited at their floors. Everyone seemed in a hurry. The holidays. The door opened. Lee crossed the lobby. The doorman smiled, “Monsieur, taxi?”
“Um,” Lee hesitated, and then he said, “Oui.”
A walk would have been better, Lee thought, as he slipped into the cab. The driver looked at Lee. “The Eiffel Tower.” The driver nodded. It was a beautiful late December morning. Sunny, though a bit windy, which made it feel colder. Traffic was heavy. The shops were busy. Last-minute shoppers like Lee. He hadn’t finished his list. He’d waited for Paris. Something special this year for both Liz and his daughter. He would have time for that this evening or tomorrow morning. But what? Which shop? Bebe for his daughter, the shop she had loved on her first trip to Paris with Lee and Liz when she was sixteen.
Lee was so occupied with his shopping list and his thoughts that he didn’t give much credence to the black BMW that had been following his cab since it had left the hotel. Lee didn’t even notice when the cab stopped.
“Oh, yes. I mean, oui. We’re here. Right?’
The driver rolled his eyes. “Oui, monsieur.” Lee was sure he was thinking something about Americans. Lee handed him what he thought was the fare and a tip. The driver nodded.
The tower wasn’t crowded. A ticket to the top required no conversation. Given Lee’s French, he was thankful for that. He boarded the elevator with a group of Japanese tourists. The gate clanged shut, and the elevator began slowly to move. It creaked and groaned and swayed some in the wind.
The viewing platform wasn’t crowded either. Lee walked around the platform slowly. There was the usual assortment of young and some not-so young lovers, hardly noticing the cold. But the weather was discouraging most of the tourists from staying very long.
Lee looked out over the city. The Arc de Triomphe. He was sure of that. The Louvre, maybe. He was getting cold. He looked at his watch. It was later than he thought, 11:48 A.M. The traffic would be even worse on the way back.
And then he saw her. He aborted his retreat to the elevator. She was standing by herself. It certainly looked like her. The hair, still blond, thanks to, as she would say, “better living through chemistry.” The coat, a dress, even on such a cold day, an umbrella. A petite woman.
The last time he had seen Jean was in Paris. They spent a few hours together. Jennings had arranged it. They had one meal together, a dinner, and then it was over. Jennings saw to that. No, it wasn’t at the Eiffel Tower. Although they had talked of meeting there someday. An Affair to Remember with the Eiffel Tower rather than the Empire State Building. It was business that had brought Lee to Paris three years ago. Another World Health Organization meeting and a “delivery” for Jennings. A relatively uncomplicated delivery, but, again, one that Lee did not feel he could turn down. He had not told Liz about it. They had met at the Café de la Paix, had a simple dinner and a few drinks. A lot of reminiscing. She was seeing an old friend of her late husband, a man named Carl. Lee and Jean had toasted their separate lives and their relationship. “Like a rock,” she had said. The relationship had been worn by the years, but had not been washed away.
Lee had started to walk toward the mystery woman, but a man about Lee’s age hurried past him. He touched the woman on the shoulder. She turned. Lee waited. She was now facing in Lee’s direction, but the man, a large man, white hair, tall, slim — slimmer than Lee — blocked his view.
Finally, the man moved. It wasn’t Jean. Lee was shaking now. He rubbed his arms and stamped his feet and finally forced himself in the direction of the elevator. As Lee had decided many years before, some things must be accepted, even if they would never be understood.