February 5, 2029, The United Nations Secretariat Building, Manhattan
Janet Jagger watches the East River snake around the campus of the United Nations. Though the water is brown today, it’s still a beautiful sight from the thirty-ninth floor of the Secretariat Building. As she watches the murky water rush around the gray boulders, she imagines the soothing sound it must be making on the other side of the courtyard. She wonders if anyone else finds the infamous river oddly out of place in the Turtle Bay area of Manhattan.
She feels oddly out of place as well. She just left a welcome reception held in her honor. She felt as if the walls were closing in on her, and it was getting hard to breathe. Guests usually enjoy events held in their honor, but she’s uneasy with the morning’s festivities. The host, Secretary-General of the United Nations Mateo Velasquez, is the source of most of her discomfort. He insisted staying at her side as she greets the Ambassadors of the world. She’s unsure if her anxiety is a case of first-day jitters with a new boss, or her subconscious sending up red flags about his intentions.
It seemed to her she wasn’t really in the conversations. The others seemed to be talking in code—a code formed from decades of working together and communicating with insider jargon. She felt like a puppet in a room full of puppet masters intent on tying strings to her. The conversations centered on the two contentious topics of religion and capitalism vs. socialism. She certainly wasn’t going to engage in these conversations on day one.
She has excused herself to go to the restroom, and has no intention of returning. She considers herself gone. She needs to leave soon anyway. In twenty minutes, she will take her seat in the adjoining General Assembly Building for the first time. She is the newly appointed Ambassador to the United Nations representing the United States. Though she campaigned for this position, she’s surprised to find herself here. Ambassadors usually have some political experience on their resumes, such as Governor, Judge, or member of Congress.
Janet is a journalist by trade. CNN hired her right out of college to be a junior news writer. She quickly worked her way up the ladder to the coveted position of international field reporter. Some might not find leaving the plush CNN tower in Atlanta for the war-torn villages of the Middle East to be a promotion, but Janet did.
After covering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the Civil War in Syria, Janet became the face of International News for CNN. When her contract expired with the network, she accepted a position as press director for the Peace Corps. She used her experience in broadcast news to draw attention to the irreversible damage done to children of war. She pledged to do anything within her power to help children living in refugee camps to rise up to live productive lives. It seems to her, though they have survived wars, the children hold no hope for their futures. Hopelessness is not something Janet is willing to accept. She places the responsibility of tragedy on the backs of every nation on the planet.
Her documentaries, laced with compassionate pleas for action and donations, were broadcast around the world. They went viral on social media, and were translated into seven languages. Janet’s arguments for change left little room for debate. She produced her own programs so she could retain the creative rights. War Babies became a smash hit for the Fox News television network. Janet spotlighted one war-torn country each month for a year.
The documentaries, along with her testimony on Capitol Hill, convinced Congress to double its funding. Though the Peace Corps is a U.S.-based organization, twenty-two countries donate their time and money to it. They responded just as enthusiastically to the series. The increased funds allowed for the expansion of medical services in countries where the Peace Corps already had a presence, and opened the doors to eleven war-torn countries previously inaccessible.
Survival supplies and medical treatments made up seventy-five percent of the charitable services performed under Janet’s leadership. The remaining twenty-five percent fell under “education.” Janet’s vision was bigger than meeting the everyday needs of the refugees and citizens of war-torn nations. She wants to see them rise above their current state. If allowed, she placed teachers in every nation serviced by the Peace Corps. The teachers were certified educators who volunteered to teach STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).
Janet knew this was ambitious, but she felt the children of war deserved the same access to education as the rest of the world. Surprisingly, the children in the Third World Nations were like tiny sponges when it came to absorbing new information. Some of them were proficient in coding before they could even understand the basics of mathematics.
Janet also took care of the parents. They could enroll in courses made just for them, and enrollment went through the roof in every single nation. Most classrooms reached capacity months before the courses began. The classrooms now have standing room only. Adding “accredited education” to the services provided by the Peace Corp made Janet one of the biggest stories of the year. Her impact on Third World nations garnered a Nobel Peace Prize, which she accepted in an ornate ceremony in Oslo, Switzerland on June 15, 2028.
While watching the Nobel Prize Ceremony, the political elite became aware of Janet’s gifts in communication and world politics. Republican Presidential Nominee Enoch Cohen tuned in and listened to Janet’s acceptance address. He was impressed with her poise and passion. After his inauguration, she was the first person he interviewed and added to his Cabinet.
Three weeks later, Janet’s entire world has been turned upside-down. She now has a new residence and boss, one who is not sitting well with her. As she takes her last sip of tea, Janet reminds herself, like him or not, she must have a good relationship with Secretary-General Velasquez. They will be working together most days until his appointment ends in December. By charter, the U.N. General Assembly must convene continuously from September through December. In the last decade, the United Nations has been operating year-round to be able to address all the issues coming before it.
The increase in activity of the U.N. is directly tied to its growth. When the U.N. launched following World War II, fifty-one nations were charter members. Today, there are 193 sovereign nations in membership. This group of leaders overwhelmingly considers the world to be in crisis, and possibly on the brink of World War III. Because of this, the fifteen countries that make up the U.N. Security Council are required to have a representative onsite at all times. Janet has not even begun to search for possible stand-ins for herself. For now, the holdovers from the last administration are sharing the responsibility. It is just another line item on Janet’s massive to-do list.
The life changes this position brings are just beginning, and she;s well aware that large amounts of change can trigger her anxiety. This overwhelming mental state has been a part of her life since the death of her daughter, Tova. At times, it can be crippling. Right now, it seems as if everything in her life is changing. It has only been two weeks since her confirmation hearings and Induction Ceremony. She barely had time to pack a few things to bring with her to New York City.
For now, she is staying in a hotel. It will be a few months before she will be free from sessions to look for a permanent place. She’s accustomed to living out of a suitcase, and that’s the lifestyle she prefers. Most people who suffer from anxiety prefer to stay in familiar surroundings. Janet is an exception to the rule. She prefers to surround herself with as much activity and as many people as possible to keep her from being alone with her thoughts.
Stepping into the elevator, Janet pushes the button for the mezzanine. She faces the mirrored wall in the back of the elevator for a final look before she faces the cameras. The ivory wool Chanel suit gives her a classic look. She chose the suit because it flows easily over her hips and the skirt sufficiently covers her knees.
Most of the world’s ambassadors are men, and many are from countries where women must dress modestly. The last thing Janet wants is for her clothing to distract from her message. For a polished look, she pulled her long black hair into a tight bun at the nape of her neck and chose pearl earrings, an ivory scarf, and patent black pumps to complete the outfit.
Today’s wardrobe comes from the professional Baby Boomer playbook. She is a member of Generation X, but if she were to dress like the rest of the X-ers, she would be wearing something a little more stylish, and a whole lot more comfortable. If her generation has learned anything about the professional work environment, it is that conformity is critical to success in the soon-to-end era of the Baby Boomers.
X-ers spend their entire lives trying to maneuver around the massive generations on either side of them: Baby Boomers and Millennials. X-ers are the quintessential middle children with highly developed communication and conflict resolution skills. In an effort to keep from leaning on those skills today, Janet polished her look, and put on the suit and heels.
The elevator’s mirrored wall reflects her mother’s dark brown eyes and graceful neck. These are the most cherished features she enjoys from her Jewish heritage. When Janet was born, her parents still lived in Jerusalem. Shortly after her birth, the family moved to America for her father’s job with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The FAO is one of the fifteen specialty agencies housed in the same building Janet stands in. Her father was the Director of the FAO for three years and led international efforts to defeat hunger on the planet through desert irrigation. It was an ambitious, seemingly impossible goal when her dad ran the show four decades earlier. Now, the impossible has become the probable. Within the next two years, her father’s vision is becoming a reality by a company owned by President Cohen’s wife, Sun Economics.
Janet’s parents were not fond of New York City, so they set up housing in the nation’s capital. Her father commuted back and forth from Washington, D.C. to attend U.N. sessions and department director meetings. He returned home for the weekends. Janet grew up in Washington D.C. and attended Sidwell Friends High School, a premier high school popular among the Jewish elite.
At the age of seventeen, Janet brought a great deal of shame to her parents when she became pregnant. The family pulled her out of Sidwell just as her last semester was beginning. They returned her to Jerusalem where Janet gave birth to a daughter.
In an effort to give Janet a chance for an advanced degree, her parents offered to raise the baby in Israel while Janet returned to the States and entered Georgetown University’s School of Journalism. Janet flew to Israel to see her daughter every few months during fall and spring semesters. In the summer and winter breaks, she stayed with her in Jerusalem.
The plan seemed like a good one until Tova committed suicide when she was seventeen. The note she left behind did not assign blame, but nonetheless, Janet carries the guilt. No one in America knows about her pregnancy, or her daughter, and Janet intends to keep it that way.
When the elevator doors open, Janet steps into the large Mezzanine. It’s bustling with activity. This is the busiest and best-known building of the United Nations. As she passes the corridor to the UN Security Council Office, she stops to admire the wall-sized copy of Picasso’s oil painting, Guernica.
Though she finds Picasso’s paintings confusing at times, the message in this one is completely clear. The snippets of men crying out in agony, tortured animals, and pieces of useless weaponry laid out in no apparent order seem to perfectly depict the horror of war. Picasso refused to give color to war, opting to create this piece using only blacks, grays, and whites. Janet understands why this painting is the favored backdrop of news reporters when they broadcast their U.N. updates. It is chilling and beautiful at the same time.
After admiring the painting and avoiding the reporters, Janet heads into the courtyards, decorated with thousands of colorful pansies. Pansies are the only flowers that can withstand the harsh New York winters. Tourists are lining up along 42nd Street in hopes of viewing the beautiful gardens and the vast collection of paintings, tapestries, and sculptures donated to the U.N. over the years.
Even as a child, Janet found the United Nations’ art collection to promote peace and to depict the citizens of the world had endless possibilities. Cultural diversity is celebrated. Nothing depicted here justifies war. Ever the optimist, she dreams of seeing world peace realized in her lifetime.
A teenager standing in the tourist line recognizes Janet and gives her a shout out and a wave. She waves back and smiles. She loves to see teenagers seeking to understand the workings of the world’s governments, and becoming familiar with the names of their leaders. She calls out to the girl, “Enjoy the visit!” Janet knows the tour will be a little shorter today: visitors cannot enter the General Assembly Hall when the world’s ambassadors are in session.
Janet clears security and steps into the Assembly Hall. The grandeur of this place continues to impress her. She visited many times with her father over the years, but this is her first visit since the 2014 renovation. The seating area now expands to meet the increasing membership. At its inception in 1945, only fifty-one member states required seating. Today, 193 member nations share the space.
The stage now has state-of-the-art electronics and wall-sized viewing screens. The gold U.N. emblem that serves as the backdrop of the stage is shiny and new. The old one is a victim of nicotine damage; the Assembly Hall is now smoke-free. The chairs and desks are new and comfortable. The newly-installed recessed lighting makes the auditorium more ominous than Janet remembers. She finally lets out the smile she has been holding back until her appointment became real. She’s finally living her dream.