March is the cruelest month

Spring officially arrived this week, with March 19 marking the vernal equinox. According to meteorologists, “meteorological spring’ began even sooner on March 1.

The poet Emily Dickinson extolled the arrival of March (“Dear March—Come in— How glad I am—”). But we always have viewed March as the ultimate tease. Emily Dickinson lived in Amherst, far from the coast, where ocean breezes off the still-frigid Atlantic — water temps are their coldest in March — can lower the dreaded wind-chill factor by 10 degrees even on sunny days.

For those of us who have been lifelong residents of Eastern Mass., March is the month on the calendar that we long for with great anticipation after the harsh winter season. But it always disappoints, like an object of desire who fails to live up to our expectations.

Admittedly, these past few winters have not been too tough to take, both in terms of the lack of cold and snow, which environmental scientists tell us is the beginning of a long-term trend of warmer winters because of climate change. Those milder winters have given us all the more reason to hope that March would be even more temperate compared to the past, but our hopes have been Mother Nature.

To be sure, we had some warm weather last week and the crocuses and snowdrops have been pushing through the ground for a while now, especially in the areas of our gardens in full sun. But the cold weather that is forecast for the coming week, with below-freezing temperatures every night and early-morning, is anything but a harbinger of the coming spring season. 

One of the earliest memories of our childhood was learning the aphorism, “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.” Despite the onset of climate-change, that saying remains as true today as it was then. 

It’s a sad, sad, sad, sad world

It is fair to say that for everyone reading this editorial, the world is in a greater state of chaos than at any time in our lives.

Although the decades in the aftermath of World War II brought us the Cold War and two “hot wars” in Korea and Vietnam, plus the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the world overall was a more orderly place, divided between the Western democracies and the Eastern European Communist autocracies. Everyone knew where they stood and played by the rules. Both sides possessed huge nuclear arsenals that could destroy the other 10 times over, but that equilibrium brought us relative peace thanks to the concept of mutually assured destruction, appropriately known by the acronym MAD.

Even during the height of the Cold War, we could laugh at movies such as “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming,” and the Beatles could make a parody of Chuck Berry’s “Back in the U.S.A.” and the Beach Boys’ “California Girls” with their song, “Back in the U.S.S.R.”

But since the demise of the Cold War’s hierarchy, turmoil has erupted in many places that had been relatively-peaceful. The civil wars that engulfed Somalia, Rwanda, and the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s presaged the terrible situations we have today. 

Those relatively-contained civil conflicts have evolved into the ongoing cross-border wars in Ukraine, Gaza, Israel, Syria, and sub-Saharan Africa, where civilians are being bombed, murdered, raped, and displaced by the millions. No one is making jokes about the evils of Vladimir Putin and Hamas or the dire situation in Gaza.

In our own hemisphere, Haiti has collapsed into complete and total chaos, ruled by warring criminal gangs, and the Central American nations of El Salvador and Honduras are not far behind. In Mexico, the drug cartels effectively control large swathes of the country.

Venezuela has descended into desperate poverty despite having oil reserves that made it one of the wealthiest nations in South America just 10 years ago when its GDP was five times what it is today.

Even Chinese citizens are fleeing their country, where there is a huge crisis in the real estate market, because of economic stagnation that has brought record-high unemployment and a lack of opportunity to a nation that had known exponential growth for three decades.

It is estimated that 280 million people worldwide today are migrants, of whom 110 million are refugees, asylum-seekers, and others who are internally displaced people and in need of international protection. Both of those numbers are all-time records and are growing parabolically year-after-year.

The New York Times columnist and best-selling author Thomas Friedman has divided the post-post-Cold War world into two camps — the nations of order vs. disorder. America remains a beacon, not only among the disorderly nations, but also compared to the industrialized world. We emerged from the pandemic as the strongest economy on earth, with an historically-low unemployment rate and a taming of post-COVID inflation that by far have outpaced our peers in Western Europe and elsewhere.

But despite our success, the news headlines each day inform us that the world today is a sad, sad place, instilling in all of us a sense that our relative strength and stability is fragile and cannot be taken for granted.

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