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One of the most frightening movies I ever saw was called Der Tag danach, known to English speakers as the The Day After. The film depicted a full-scale nuclear war between the United States and the former Soviet Union.

At the time I was a very young man living sheltered away in a monastery with a school attached in Austria. I allowed myself to be persuaded by my students, who were just a few years younger than I was, to leave the monastery, go to a restaurant, and watch the movie. Had we planned to eat after the film, I probably would have lost my appetite.

Decades later, I’m very careful these days about planning meals and watching the news. I also need to factor in sleep. Since the new occupants of the White House moved in less than a month ago, I’ve thought about scenes like those in Der Tag danach that I had put out of my mind. (Der Tag danach was shown as a feature film in Austria the year after it was shown on American television.)

At the time I joined high school seniors to watch Der Tag danach, I dreamt of either becoming a full-fledged monk or some day starting my own family. After seeing the film, I wondered if that would be possible. My dreams of a family were pretty conventional and included being married to a woman and having children not born with an extra chromosome. If someone had suggested to me back then that my legal spouse would be a man, and my gorgeous, college-bound daughter would be born with three #21 chromosomes, I would have found a nice corner of the monastery and meditated for a very long time! I might have even fasted.

The world is more complicated since those monastic days, but also very much the same. The contours of my dreams may be different, but in some regards they have the same basic shape. The monastic community, by the way, closed over five years ago.

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