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Wednesday, Nov. 17, 1999

WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST

Hemingway's dead; long live the future


Hemingway once said that good writing begins with the simple production of but one true sentence. OK. Here's something that's true. Hemingway is dead.

And not only him. Marilyn Monroe is dead. Lady Di. James Dean. Albert Einstein. Bruce Lee. Even John Wayne. In fact, a whole century of people are dead. The millennium creeps up on us, ringing in, at the stroke of midnight this Dec. 31, not only a crisp, new century but an entire carton of new centuries.

Or, if you are a literalist, make that a year later, on Dec. 31, 2000. And what a century it has been. Some may recall it as the bloodiest 100 years in recorded history. The shadowy time of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and oodles of other bad guys.

Others may remember it as the age of future shock. Of space shuttles, laser beams, optic fibers and the Internet.

Beyond the gore and the glitz, though, we have to acknowledge one thing. It's over. When the calendar turns, a new age will begin.

And why not, as a symbol of that old age, Ernest Miller Hemingway, born exactly 100 years ago this past summer? An impure soul, hung up on purity. A fragile ego, unduly obsessed with machismo. An unhappy wanderer who could never fathom the foreign heart. A sincere artist who flirted with both beauty and violence, good and evil, love and apathy, and then confessed it all in prose as sharp and simple as a hunting knife. The ultimate individualist -- who in the end self-destructed and blew his own head off.

As much as a nutshell of one man's life, that could be a description of our whole turbulent century. We survived those chaotic, crackling times. Hemingway did not.

And why not, as a symbol of the new age now upon us, you and me and every other international couple out there? Who better represents our rapidly shrinking world than families that can look upon both sides of a vast sea and call either end home? Families that can flick the tube on and take interest in happenings thousands and thousands of kilometers away just as keenly as in the events going on right next door?

Mixed wedlock and the consequent blend of clan and culture are nothing new. They've been the natural result every time one group has rubbed against another as far back as millenniums have been counted. Or even farther.

What we have today, though, is much more than a patching of tribes and villages. We have an entire globe folding together. Perhaps not fast enough to override every insular aspect of nationalism and intolerance, but still enough to make a person think that one day we really might not be dreamers. One day, more than just imagining, we truly might see all the people sharing all the world.

Think about it. A little over 50 years ago, my mother-in-law (all 130 cm, 36 kg of her) spent the summer of her 20th year practicing how to cock and thrust a bamboo pike -- her envisioned target being the Adam's apple of an advancing American G.I.

Nowadays, instead of a pike she carries a cane, and, for extra balance, she stretches her free hand to the steady elbow of her son-in-law. Her American son-in-law.

Now that is progress. It didn't come cheaply and it's not as high profile as satellite TV or the World Wide Web. Yet it is vastly more human than either and, these international days, increasingly common.

Born in the settling dust of a great world war, my Japanese wife and I probably spat and spar as much as any married couple. We squabble over how to raise the kids, how to manage the household, who gets the last slice of melon and so on. Yet the grim fact that our parent's generation strove hard to kill one another never enters our minds. Sometimes, within our varied backgrounds, communication can get knotted, but we always loop out of it.

And rather than a sum of two cultures, our children have become multiples. It is more than carrying two passports, speaking two languages and having mixed family. It is loving two lands. It is cherishing two traditions.

Brave new century, with what fresh twists will you knit our world even more? Will my children one day marry into Central Asia? Or South America? Will we hold family reunions in Australia? Or in Northern Europe? Or in the Caribbean? One day will old Tom Dillon steady his gait on the elbow of a grandchild born in India? Or Africa? Or China?

Some may lament this mongrelization of our planet. As divisions fuzz, it is inevitable that some things will be lost. I say, "Let it be so."

The problems of the new century certainly will not be any less than those of the past. It is only the promises that loom brighter. Especially if we can face those problems united.

The heroes and rogues of the old century are dead. It is time to leave them behind. To let them rest. They can no longer either help us . . . or hurt us. It's a new beginning and we are on our own. The future belongs to us.

Good writing or not, it is still true. Even Hemingway might agree.



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