You have to get this setting. I’m in the upscale restaurant on the ground level of my hotel at the corner of State Street and Washington Street, Chicago, trying to find the mildest thing on the menu.
No, they don’t have chicken soup. No, they have no side dish of steamed spinach to substitute for a salad. Yes, they can make the veggie burger, substituting the Boursin for a chèvre, and leaving off the creme fraiche. Yes, they do have mint tea.
Outside, people are gathering for the Memorial Day parade due to arrive momentarily. I can see nothing from my seat in the restaurant. It is a window seat but on the wrong side. I look across the restaurant out the far windows and see the backs of standing people. Chicago seems to be a patriotic town, we need northern patriotic towns, I think.
I am here for the wedding of a dear friend. His first, her first. He is 64, I don’t know how old she is but it’s reasonable. He is the oldest of a brood of Irish Catholic siblings. She is the oldest of Japanese-American siblings. They are being married in a United Methodist church across from Daley Plaza and the Picasso statue. The church has magnificent stained class windows. I cried, though no one knew, at the rehearsal last night. Oh my, people with faith in each other and life.
I hear drums, masses of drums, and see the tops of flags, lots of flags. I see the top of a float of the Illinois state seal.
I have a tummy ache. Hence, the mint tea. This is my first meal in 24 hours.
No one in the restaurant looks out even though many hundreds came to line the street and the television station scaffolding is right outside. Theoretically we are at the apex. I hear trumpets.
Let’s talk about war. My veggie burger has arrived. Thick, predominantly brown rice and mushrooms, a limited thing.
War sucks. War would not be necessary if humans were more clever, particularly if Americans, the people with money, were more clever, and kind, and far thinking, and not, in sum, ridiculous in our choices and closing of our hearts. We cheat our own, so I guess it makes sense that we believe people who aren’t us are “outsiders” better left alone until they attack us.
I’m not saying all war is avoidable. There are people who do evil in the world. I have dear friends who believe in strands and stains of evil. Mostly I say there are humans who try to avoid being “merely” human, who want to feel they are so much stronger than others that they are safe despite the dumbbell they see reflected in the mirror – the dumbbell they think they are because they didn’t discover the Grand Unified Theory, or can’t sing like Pavoratti, or run a three-minute mile.
More drums, more flags.
Or they aren’t rich or . . . Oh, I see the tops of rifles going by.
Or they aren’t . . . whatever. So they go rigid and fundamental. (All extremists are fundamentalists in one way or another.)
And then the rest of us (we do like to think we are on the good side and God really does prefer us) have to fight back, to protect ourselves, or whatever.
I am the only soul in this restaurant who is looking up and out the window. Oh, mimosas, salmon, Eggs Benedict, and salade nicoise, how privileged you are!
People die in wars.
More flags, a gap in the crowd, I see the American Legion.
People die in wars, mangled, cut short, leaving children and spouses, and futures. And that’s just the fighters. And now more civilians die in wars than fighters. Women crouched down to protect their children and standing up and running to get water. Children who play with spent shells.
More flags. A float. Was that the mayor?
I don’t believe in war. I do believe in marriage between people who love each other. I believe in mint tea. I believe in mint tea for tummy aches and heart aches.
I believe in the nations with substance acting in ways that prevent war in the first place. But that depends on people caring about others in real time, seeing the needs, and tending each other early.
I am proud of the people who serve. I can’t bear that we need to fight because we didn’t tend.
More drums, more flags.
Rifles and berets.
The wedding is in an hour, I must leave here and get ready.
A marching bane, white tubas, red uniforms, flags twirled by majorettes.
. . .
I stepped outside, went to the corner to get you a photo of flags, and inside of three minutes I am interviewed on t.v. (complete with my name) as to what I see as the most crucial question facing Chicago today. “I’ve only been here three days but from what I see Chicago is a vibrant robust city.”
And an Indian woman waving an American flag then introduced herself as a commentator for 17 years, now a doctor, and the great-granddaughter of Gandhi, “the great freedom fighter for India.” “Yes, I know of Gandhi.”
Gandhi, the icon of non-violence. You cannot make this stuff up even if you don’t know what to make of it.
I now look out from my hotel window on the 9th floor, a float is going by of paralyzed veterans.