Phantom Nostalgia

Tonight I fly over China. Railroads crisscross through the countryside like rivers of steel, wood, and electricity. Power lines stand guard over dirty white houses and apartment complexes. What if all this was left behind? What if we were driven out by a war or a plague? What would the archaeologists of the future think?

I imagine them walking, flashlights in hand, between glass towers, through Shanghai’s People’s Square, along the Bund and its bridges, through ruined nightclubs and museums. They would wear masks and Hazmat suits out of fear for the unknown evil that had devastated the city. Occasionally bridges and buildings would collapse around them, flattening one or two of them. They would spend years examining billboards, piecing decayed books together, and restoring what remained of our temples and skyscrapers. They would spend hours in abandoned living rooms mulling over the desirability and efficiency of our family structures.

Eventually they would go home to their families, wondering what it must have been like to live as we once did. Some would smugly dismiss our era as a necessary evil, an obstacle to the achievements of the present. Others would acknowledge this as fact even as they pined for a life imbued with the hideous grandeur that colored our civilization’s demise. Every generation has its Don Quixotes.

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