For the Mikkelson kids, in the decade roughly between 1979 and 1989, stricter lessons begin to make themselves evident. Line’s kids are growing up and her wildest one, Christopher, remains incorrigible to anyone but her. In her work in a community hospital, she finds death and dying as important as birth. Marty, though she enjoys being a young, upwardly mobile professional, must acknowledge that her marriage has not matured into a partnership, that perhaps it won’t. Paul feels he has finally found the place he should be, but is surprised when family events put more responsibility on him that he ever expected.
As I prepare to write, I am surprised to find that the incidence of both natural and manmade disasters during the decade of the 1980’s is staggering. All over the world! Our awareness of these disasters was intense, though it was well before the internet became available. Mostly it came through newspapers and the occasional television news broadcast. And from each other. It was impossible not to know what was happening if you were out in the world, living and working.
I was at two architectural firms during that time, for approximately five years each. I had a friend who dedicated himself to anti-nuclear activism after the meltdown of a nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island in 1979. Other friends talked about the ash that lay over northwestern cities as the Mt. St. Helen’s volcano erupted in 1980, and continued to be active, leaving a vast grey landscape. The homeless population was rising, as Reaganomics dictated that social services were too expensive for a wealthy country like ours. I remember walking to work along the Embarcadero every morning, seeing a small population of people who woke up in sleeping bags laid out at the edge of the Bay. I wondered whether living in the open was actually so bad!
During the second half of the decade I worked with many talented architects who were rapidly dying from AIDS. My sister took care of these sufferers at Children’s Hospital, where at first people recognized only the Karposi’s sarcomas and related diseases they were seeing. The breakup of the Challenger Space Shuttle as it rose into orbit cast a pall over all of us, effectively shutting down the space program for several years. The Exxon Valdez spilled 260,000 barrels of oil into Prince William Sound affecting the habitats of fish, sea mammals and birds for many years to come. And I was at work in 1989 when the earth buckled all along the San Andreas fault during the Loma Prieta earthquake.
These many disasters, some triggered by men and some not, punctuated the 1980’s. But also, by the end of the decade, the iron curtain which chained in communist countries began to come down and Poland, Estonia, Romania and Czechoslovakia proclaimed their freedom; the Berlin wall came down in Germany; and apartheid, as a policy, failed in South Africa. Even in China, a failed attempt at democracy began with protests by Chinese students in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
It was a tumultuous decade indeed, prompting many of us to think in terms of the “stricter lessons” caused by both men and nature, and reminding us to be grateful for the tenuous net of human life on earth. It is also worth noting that in 1989, a proposal for what was known as the World Wide Web, upon which I am now able to set down these thoughts, was made in Switzerland by Tim Berners-Lee.