How long has it been since you last read Washington Irving’s story of Rip Van Winkle? If you think about Rip Van Winkle for a few minutes, you might realize that he reminds you of some of your friends or relatives. What a shock the lovable, shiftless loafer had when he awoke and came back to his village after sleeping out in the Catskills for 20 years. He chanced to walk into town about the time of an election and a man asked him how he voted. He had never voted. There was no America when he went to sleep. He’d never heard of the American Revolution, so he said, “I am a poor, quiet man, a native of the place, and a loyal subject of the King, God bless him!”

That didn’t go over very well. Unbeknownst to Rip, during the past 20 years many of his neighbors had been killed while battling the king’s soldiers.

Everything was finally resolved, however, but as Irving wrote, “It was some time before he could get into the regular track of gossip, or could be made to comprehend the strange events that had taken place during his torpor.”

“Torpor” is a good word. Are you surprised that you don’t hear it nowadays as much as you might expect?

The story of Rip Van Winkle and his struggle to grasp a newfound reality is not unique. Many countries have ancient stories of a shepherd who follows a sheep or goat into a cave and sleeps for 50, or even 300 years. The returning sleeper then had a struggle to grasp the fact that his father’s farm was under new ownership, or that a sapling that he saw being planted is now an ancient tree bearing fruit.

There are stories of groups of people who slept for hundreds of years to escape religious persecution. It is unclear from my source if they were any better off when they awoke.

In recent times these ancient folk tales morphed into science fiction, and we read of space explorers who travel at almost the speed of light and return, years later, to learn that they are unwanted anachronisms.

It is not necessary to turn to fiction to find stories of people who cannot grasp reality. If, after a week or two of fever, your child or parent suddenly joined a cult, you know that they are immune to facts or reason.

Consider the millions of German farmers who, for most of World War II, heard on the German state radio that Germany was winning the war. For years the rural folk lived in an alternate universe. They weren’t permitted to listen to broadcasts that originated outside Germany. You have read of the stiff penalty they faced for doing so. All they heard was what had been put out by the German ministry of propaganda. There was no question in their minds but what Germany was winning the war. It was a fact. They heard it every day on the radio.

Imagine the shock and disbelief those honest, hard-working rural Germans must have experienced on the morning they awoke to the rumble of swiftly moving Allied tanks.

Were many of those people interviewed at the time? If you’d traveled about in Germany in the summer of 1945 you could have filled volumes with stories from confused people, telling about the day they had to replace German radio “facts” with something they’d seen with their own eyes.

How long would you guess it took an honest, hard-working German farmer to turn the reality in his mind 180 degrees and admit that the things he’d been told for four or five years were only lies?

You might vaguely remember Hiroo Onoda. He’s that Japanese officer who hid in the Philippine jungle and continued to fight World War II until 1974 when, much as with Rambo, his commanding officer persuaded him to abandon his post. Until then, Onoda thought that everything he read about the war’s having ended was fake news.

In the meantime, he killed around 30 people whom he mistakenly thought were enemy soldiers.

You might be aware of a small segment of the American population that now lives in a similar bubble of alternate reality. For reasons unknown to 7 billion people in the rest of the world, they continue to believe the stories that have been manufactured and spread by the likes of Q, Rush and Fox News. If you read what they post on Facebook, you could easily suspect that they’ve been living in a jungle or sleeping up in the Catskills for years

The humble Farmer can be heard Friday nights at 7 on WHPW (97.3 FM) and visited at:

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