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March 16, 2005
We had a wonderful table by a window in her hotel dining room, overlooking a piece of Central Park. I could see "The Gates" in the snow every morning, she said, as they were taking them down. The New York Athletic Club fills quickly with suits every day at lunch and empties out just as quickly when the lunch hour is over. They are almost exclusively male suits: she and I and two women at another table comprised the entire distaff side in the dining room. A friend from Greece who always stayed there used to refer to it as "Mt. Athos."

We seldom see each other, living as we do on opposite coasts, so there was a lot of catching up to do: health, husbands, grandchildren, travels. And more sober thoughts: there's a plaque down in the lobby that wasn't there before, commemorating the members of the club who were killed in the WTC bombing. More than a dozen names, from this club alone. I glance at the young men coming in the door for lunch, young men with families, mostly. People at the top of their game. Just like the men whose names are on the plaque.

What do you think, she wanted to know. What do you think about the world?

We talked about Lebanon, about the enormous gatherings in Beirut every day, about how peaceful they have been. One of the desk clerks in the club is from Beirut and knew the minister whose assassination sparked the demonstrations. He told me yesterday that this man sent a thousand young people to universities here and in Europe every year, she said.

It looks to me like the people are reaching for some freedom and that they won't be denied, I said. I listen to the BBC every night and hold my breath. But the nonviolence seems to be holding. And how about Egypt? An election with an actual field of candidates?

She nodded vigorously. That's amazing, too.

It's not the end, but it's a beginning. The smart money is on Mubarak for another term, of course; even the dumb money isn't so dumb as to imagine otherwise. But it is a beginning.

Even Libya. Not an end, but a beginning.

People do have what they need to make changes in their lives. In their countries' lives. They do know what they need to know. Things really don't have to stay the same. Jericho was turned over to the Palestinians today, and tomorrow it will be Ramallah -- a tougher nut to crack, but it will happen on schedule. It's not the end, but it is a beginning.

Did we do this? I think the people are doing it themselves. The removal of Saddam Hussein is the positive contribution we have made that made these beginnings possible; we would not be seeing these signs if that he were still in power and a free election had not occurred in Iraq. But anti-American feeling is still high in the Middle East. They still want us out. We can't forget that the stirrings of democracy in that part of the world will reflect this: the emerging governments there in the future may not be content to be our clients, and should not be.

I'm hopeful, I said. I can see some real light.

We have to be hopeful, she said firmly. She is firm about things like that. She is over eighty; she should know. I don't know any other way to live life but to have hope.

Neither do I.
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