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The Magpie Sings the Great Depression:
Selections from DeWitt Clinton High School's Literary Magazine, 1929-1942

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"Let There Be Light"

By Lewis Harris
Illustrated by Harold Altman

The Magpie, January 1941, v. 25, n. 1, p. 44.

And God said, "Let there be light."

Two eternal spirits materialize in the heavens, one clad in shimmering rays of golden light, the other, vast space, darkness embodied. Its shape is broken only by occasional intrepid stars which dare to pierce the gloom. Its voice is thunder, and its action the changing of day into night. High in the heavens, the clash of two titanic wills occurs. Listen.

The roll of thunder grows. Lightning spears through space. The voice of fate rings out.

Darkness . . . Doomed! Doomed, I say.

He points to a tiny planet far below. A shaft of light shows it to be earth. Can you doubt for a moment that they must die? Can you watch the richness of their world being destroyed by those fools, and even hesitate to plunge them into dark? Can you watch them murder, and ravage the world we have given them, and still permit that blight in the universe to exist?

Light speaks. For a moment there is a glow of warmth, of radiant light.

I grant that men are fools. I even grant that men are wantonly destroying the heritage of decency and peace which was given them when their little world was created. Their wars and hates are wrong, but we cannot forget that the world is new. They have existed for only a few aeons. Man is young and gropes feebly in his new life. The fires of war are only the tempering process. Only a few men are destroying the world. The inherent decency of the masses certainly deserves saving. Let them live. The dawn of a new era shall come when they will have learned to rule themselves. And that shall be the real beginning of their existence. Watch some ordinary man down there. Watch his actions and see whether he merits destruction. See whether he is vicious and stupid.

A beam of light strikes earth.

On earth a tiny figure scurries along. A siren shrieks, and overhead a swarm of bombers flies. The figure races to the safety of a subway shelter, and quivers in the murkiness. A bomb blasts a building nearby. The man is horrified and frightened. He is obviously just an ordinary person. A moment later another bomb falls, and down the street a child screams as a rafter pins it against a wall. For a moment the man is uncertain. Then, all afraid, he runs toward the child and releases it. Suddenly a shell fragment cuts into his body. He dies. Light . . .

He was just a plain and simple man, and yet he died saving that child. Would you condemn that sort of man to destruction? Would you destroy the men who are the foundation of tomorrow's world? There was a man whose decency and sense of humanity prevailed over all his qualms and fears. Those men must live.

Darkness . . .

Another one. Show me another one. Show me people who are not heroes, who save no lives. Let me see how men act in their every day affairs.

Again the scene changes to earth. There is no war this time. It is a scene in a small city. Two people are walking along, one a middle-aged man, and the other. his wife. As they pass a store window, the woman points longingly at a trinket. They start to go into the store, but as they pass through the doorway, they face a poster appealing for aid to war sufferers. For a little while they are uncertain, and then suddenly they take from a purse some money which they were to spend for the trinket. They place it in a box and return to the street without the novelty. And then they are gone.

Darkness . . .

But they are fools. Imagine that petty woman moved by a picture. Show me, if you would prove the merit of man, a coarse and ignorant man. Let me see a laborer do good. Prove that the lowest sort of man has decent and fine traits. Show me that kind of man!

The Stygian darkness of a coal mine is seen. A man sits against a wall and munches a loaf of bread. Near him sits a young boy, watching with longing eyes. The man is annoyed. He pretends not to see the boy. After a few moments, the man slowly breaks the bread, and without words, shares it with the boy. The youngster smiles gratefully, and they sit quietly eating. The bread has been shared....

Now Darkness hesitates . . .

But they are fools. The boy could have gotten along without the bread, and that man was hungry. The world is filled with fools. The man who died, the woman, this miner—they are all fools.

Light . . .

If men are fools, then men are kindly, decent fools. Can there be anything finer than the sharing of the staff of life itself? Surely you will let them live. In the lowliest man, we have seen a fineness worthy of the Gods. In the future the impurities of mankind will go, and leave a basic good, capable of withstanding time and hardships.

Darkness hesitates . . .

Suddenly the cloak of darkness which had interposed itself between light and earth is broken by a brilliant shaft of light. In a moment the infinite universe is cleansed by light. The clash of thunder ceases. The Gods are at peace.

And God said, "Let there be light." And there was light.

The Magpie Sings the Great Depression

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