Only now can we call it futile

Imagine, if you will, a gray-haired petty bureaucrat
Walking in a steady gray rain
Black umbrella in his right hand,
Rigid, upright.
In his left a black briefcase
Which contains the book he has just finished reading.

He walks slowly, matching the rain,
The angle of the umbrella and his posture
and the color of the sky and the angle of the rain
Match the upright Miesian columns
Of the government buildings clustered there.

The last pages of the book haunt. It ends
as Hannah Arendt leaves Germany by train at last
The same month his mother left by boat.

Each alone. Fifty thousand Jews left Germany that year.
Each alone.
Each leaving thousands behind who could or would not see.

Two centuries earlier an age of Enlightenment had begun there.
Now who is enlightened?
What is the lesson?

The book is called “The Pity of It All.” But it is misnamed.
It is full of hope and irony as well.
Only now can we call it futile.
We think we are different today.
Or are all hope and enlightenment doomed.
How are we to know whether we too are fools, he wonders.
Walking slowly in the rain, his umbrella upright
Amid the Federal columns.

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