This morning, on our walk, I was surprised to be the only human visible on the streets. No cars moving or honking, no bikes even, just me and little white dog Emma and the trilling, busy birds. And a wild rabbit or two.
We walked through the leafy Indiana University campus towards downtown, our usual route, about a mile and a half. Flyers seeking information about the missing IU student, Lauren Spierer, ubiquitous for the past month, inspiring hundreds upon hundreds of volunteer searchers day after day, week after week, and bathing the city in impotent sorrow, are now mostly gone, or ragged with rain.
Ten minutes go by. Solitude, stillness, the ruined trees of May’s tornadoes standing stripped of bark and branches in mute benediction to this morning’s cool, grey beauty.
Then, far off, movement, noise, a flurry of activity. What? Oh yes, it’s 4th of July! There’s a parade! Ah! What time is it?
9:30 am. The parade starts at 10.
My routine would have had me starting back at the end of campus. Instead, Emma and I crossed out of campus onto downtown streets, lined with expectant folks and their kids. Old ones too, with their families, or two together, or alone. Sitting in chairs, or blankets, on the curb, some having staked their spots hours ago. It struck me that, by and large, these were not the crunchy, green and/or academic types who frequent the Farmer’s Market with their cloth bags. No, these folks are more regular, less healthy looking, and more likely to eat fast food.
(Amazing, how many subcultures live intermingled and yet largely unaware of each other within one small area. Is that true everywhere?)
Emma, my little Embassador of Love, led the way, scouting for other dogs. What she attracted instead, was kids.
Each time someone smiled at her, each time a child looked up at his or her mom or dad and asked, “can I pet the puppy?” we would walk up to them, start talking to the folks as the kids bent down to pet her soft, warm, furry body. At one point Emma stood there panting, but patient, as six little ones all caressed her at once.
An ease of being enveloped us. An energy, palpable, present in the air. Loving a parade. Loving our country. So many little girls dressed in red, white and blue! Some with toenails painted to match. Little flags waving around. A police car drives quickly down the cordoned off parade route.
I see a man sporting a sandwich board. Ah, it must be my friend Jordan!
Yes, it is. Jordan and I have been plotting for over a year on how best to introduce the idea of everybody in the world wearing their baby pictures. On a button, or around their necks, or big, printed on a tee-shirt, or jacket.
What if everybody did this? Wore a picture of themselves that was taken before the enculturation process took over? What would wearing our baby pictures inspire in each of us in greeting each other, not with the masks of our adult personas, but with the authenticity of our vulnerable sweet origiinal selves ? Beyond language and culture, beyond all the artifice we use to keep each other at bay and ourselves unknowing, this small act, of wearing the image of our baby pictures, would, I swear, be enough to change the world.
Imagine, for example, opposing parties at a peace table, all wearing their baby pictures. Imagine Hillary. Imagine Gaddafi, Imagine Putin and DSK and Sarkozy and whoever the big Illuminati kahuna is, all wearing their baby pictures in public. How about the Bilderbergs, all mixing with street people, wearing baby pictures, in Sygmata Square, in Tahir Square, in Gaza. Who’s who?
Who’s not vulnerable as a baby?
This morning Jordan is dressed in a blue and white stripped shirt with a red bandanna, and has written these words on his board.
PLEASE TALK TO ME!
Please answer two questions.
1. What do you love about our country?
2. What would you like to see improved?
(Thinking about the second question later, I thought it might have been more effective, had he written, “what would you like to see even more of in our country?” But that’s what Jordan and I do for each other, critique and edit, while dreaming the same impossible, necessary dream.)
He asked me if I wanted to say anything, and I said I’d like to celebrate Interdependence Day rather than Independence Day. He said, yes, he’d thought about that, but decided that it was even more important to use the word “love” in the first sentence. “What do you love about our country?” He asked me.
I stood there, hesitating. “Having trouble coming up with something, eh?” He grinned.
A young man with halting language and a bandaged ear walked up. He said that what he loved about our country was the fact that “they let you do what you want, build things, build new things.”
Jordan: “So you love the creativity of our country . . .”
Young man: “Yes! And you’re great, man. Our country needs people like you.”
The young man was very enthusiastic. I had the feeling that being asked what he thought was a new experience for him. That he usually felt lonely and insignificant.
I told Jordan that what I loved about our country was that people like him could stand there with a sandwich board on asking people to talk to him about what they love about our country.
With a twinkle in his eye, Jordan then told me that he was going to read the Declaration of Independence out loud at the closing ceremony, with six other people! Would I stay and watch? I loved this idea, though I knew that neither Emma or I wanted to be out that morning for more than three hours, and we had already walked a long way, and besides, Emma might bark at all the floats. But I was very glad to hear that Jordan had taken his idea of last year to its next level.
Last year, I had been one of a dozen people invited to his house on Independence Day to read out loud to each other, very slowly, with pauses for comment and discussion, the entire Declaration of Independence. It was a thoughtful and moving two hours; I learned much from taking that document seriously, even reverently, in a like-minded group.
Now Jordan was going to read our Declaration of Independence out loud at the parade, and had prepared flyers to hand out afterwards for discussion questions if people wanted to hold gatherings similar to ours of last year.
So the beat moves on. So glad to see him!
Emma and I continue down alongside the parade route, threading through sidewalks more and more crowded as the big moment approaches for the police sirens to signal the parade on its way. From past years, I knew that the blare of fire engines would be next, big shiny red fire engines, four or five of them, all howling our country’s love of big, shiny machines. I wanted to protect our ears from that. So I kept walking, wanting to be e a little distance away when the parade started.
Such energy in the crowd! An extremely festive feeling, at ease. Startling contrast to what we hear on the news everyday about how awful everything is. The energy vibrant, high, happy, friendly, excited. That’s what struck me most, the sense of an enormous energy, waiting to be tapped; a hidden, sweet longing to be called forth for some huge collective effort that requires the wits and will and diverse skills and talents of all of us.
And, that we are ready for this.
“Go shopping!” Bush’s astonishingly trivial directive after the horror of 9/11, will no longer satisfy. Only huge collective effort to serve the common good will do. And somehow, we all know it.
Two days ago, at the beginning of this holiday weekend, when I got up I looked out the front window and saw a rolled up piece of paper at the end of my driveway. Whoever wanted me to see it didn’t want to come up to the door. Instinctively, I knew, as I was walking out to get it, that it would be a right-wing rant. Yes. A message from the Ku Klux Klan.
I wondered, should I bring this flyer up to my neighborhood association? Have others received the same hateful message? Or should I just ignore it, let it be. I decided the latter.
The parade featured the usual fireengines and police cars, all shiny and polished, the usual Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Support our Troops military themes, even a huge beige hummer with weird communication antennas driven by a guy in camouflage. Bands, hula hoops, bikes, support for one or another cause, Hoosiers for a Common Sense Alternative (Single Payer health care, see post on the man who started it), the American Legion, lots of boy and girl scout troops, PowerGirls in zany costumes (roller skaters), a motley group of grunge types with a hilarious giant “Monkey Business” banner, a loud, dressed to kill, expert bagpipe band, a young men’s rollicking percussion band on the flatbed of a truck, a big new truck of the Hoosier Hills Food Bank directly followed by a WalMart lookalike truck of the same size touting its own corporate giving (weird juxtaposition), a float that said, “Support our Troops AND our Children” (I wondered about that one), a few commercial ventures, etc. I didn’t stay for the whole thing.
As I was walking away, I heard, via a bull horn by some parade group too far away to see, “Life doesn’t have to make sense! It doesn’t have to make sense!”
I thought that shouted remark would be the highlight of my day. But it wasn’t. Within moments, three young black men approached me hauling large rolling containers full of bottled water on their way to the parade. Sweetly, they offered me a bottle, free. Such a beautiful energy among them! I thanked them profusely for their generosity, and declined, not needing it, and hoping that they wouldn’t take my rejection personally. They didn’t.
So there, Ku Klux Klan.