How can one observation be both trivial and weighty? This way: when you are filled with a conviction that the world is about to change, a baby story seems to both shrink and grow in importance in the presence of such a shadow. After all, what is the toddler’s proud achievement of three words strung together – “More pretzels please” – in comparison to a looming war? Who cares? Why bother a worried world with such minutiae? If I’m going to add to the din, shouldn’t it be about something more weighty and worldly?
At the same time, though, at the same time as I am trying to push aside the ordinary for reflections on the extraordinary, I am filled with an overwhelming sense that I must pay attention now to these little things. Someday, I am going to be asked to explain myself – by grandchildren, I hope, to myself as I work to weave a narrative of what I have lived and seen. To witness. What was it like? we will ask, much like we want to know what America was like so very early Sunday morning, December 7 or what Flanders was like in 1913.
So for the past few days, I have watched, because I have been filled with dread. And I have been noting everything – this is what they said, this is what they told us about what had to be done, and this is what they promised would happen. This is where my sons were and this is what they were worried about. This is what the air felt like, this is what the priest said in church, this is what the little girl looked like reading a story to her brother.
Like former prisoners released from confinement, my neighbors and I burst out of the house this weekend, no need for jackets, not even a long sleeved shirt, for even though the snow has not melted completely, the air is warm and the sun is bright. The ground, soaked through with months of melted snow, squishes under our feet and the river rushes, almost over its banks, full of that same winter remnant. Down at the park the Latinos gather under the pavilions, cooking and hanging out, playing volleyball, walking the running path, as they do every weekend, not skipping a beat since November when it got too cold. Katie and Joseph and I got downtown to a children’s arts festival where we watch Polish dancers and singers who end their set, smiling broadly and singing their charmingly accented version of “Back Home Again In Indiana,” waving American flags. On a Monday morning, I take Joseph to Katie’s school where they will be shearing sheep for the city children. The shearer grabs the ram by the horns, throws him on his back and in a few minutes gets the wool off in one beautiful piece, and the ram, exposed, shakes himself in relief.
At the grocery store in Fort Wayne, Indiana, my gray-haired clerk is chided by another for not wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day. “It’s not my color,” she says, and then lowers her head and murmurs, “Besides, there’s nothing to celebrate today. We’re going to war.”
Finally, several times a day for the past few days, as I cook, as I write, as I lull the baby to nap, I hear planes. Terribly loud planes whose roars last for minutes it seems. Perhaps they were there before, but I don’t think so. The noise shakes the house and sends the baby to my arms “’cared” he says. Scared.
This is what it was like. Before.
I have a morbid streak, obviously. A sense of foreboding that is sometimes on target, sometimes not. Perhaps there will be great change, perhaps things will never be the same again, but perhaps it will be all for the better, for more people around the world. Or not. I pray this time that my dark intuitions are more off-base than they have ever been, and I will laugh with the loudest of you when events – a quick end, a grateful Middle East – whatever - prove my dread to be silly and unfounded. I will. I hope.