Friday, July 25, 2008

We Must Figure out How to Make Peace


The afternoon sun had begun to fade, but the Bryant park trees twinkled, offering a sense of shelter, comfort, peace, away from the bustle of sidewalks, the glaring of glass high in the sky towering over the beating nucleus ,Midtown Manhattan.

A conversation carries on by phone, the New Yorker, questions, listens and learns about a friend's trip up north to a city many miles away.

"It went well," said the friend, on assignment in New England, where he'd given a speech, seeking to explain a campaign of tolerance to a younger generation.

"Great" came the response from Midtown from under the trees that twinkled, as he propped his feet on his bicycle, after a job interview, before beginning the journey down 5th Avenue to his soon to be former home in New York's east village.

After saying goodbye, he walked his bike to 42nd street, hopped on, thinking about the chat, passed the public library, then pedaled down the hill on 5th avenue.

Up ahead, a man with no legs, his back muscles pronounced, triceps bulging, pioneered ahead of the cyclist in a wheelchair.

The cyclists wondered, how or where the man's legs went missing, what had happened. At the same time, he felt worry, a ping of sad, but still, admiring the man's athletic defiance, his resilience, a wonder to behold, whizzing past cars, faster than the cyclist, much like the city where he now rode, a place where despite constant obstacles, the strong survive, endure and persevere, here too, the strong may shine.

But, after losing sight of the legless man, after passing the tourists with their sensible shorts and striped shirts making their way to the architectural majesty that is the Empire State Building, the cyclist came upon a familiar site, a church he'd passed many times.

In fact, it was at this spot, on the last Sunday in June, members of the Congregation, passed out cups of water, to participants in a parade, that some would rather avoid.

But on this day, there was no parade, no congregants with water, and for whatever reason, he noticed the ribbons.

They hang on the iron gating surrounding the old church, the Church of the collegiate, a building erected in 1854, a congregation chartered in 1696 by William III, king of England as the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church, now called the Marble Collegiate Church.

The ribbons, golds, blues, and greens represented something, unclear at first, perhaps a memorial, perhaps another symbol of war a testament of death, perhaps renewal, perhaps all, but it turned out, they represented prayers.

Gold, the more common color, represents prayers for the families and friends of the thousands of Americans lost in the Iraq war.

Blue for those Iraqis scores killed in the violence that devastated a nation.

Green, were for prayers of peace.

While observing, a family of three, what appeared to be tourists, all wearing baseball caps, the father nokia around his kneck, the mom with a digital, both took photos of the site, as the New Yorkers glided by. On the sidewalks, some glanced, others pausing briefly, all the while, cars, cabs and cyclists whizzed by, perhaps on their way to dinner, drinks, maybe even coming from a job interview, perhaps in a conversation about tolerance, love, joy, sadness or perhaps too, tragedy.

Among the family of three, a small boy, no more than ten, touched, held and appeared to read some of the ribbons.

Captain Mark Pane, age 32.

Lance Corporal Bradely L Parker, age 19.

Sgt Pamela G. Osborne, age 38 and hundreds perhaps thousands more.

In addition to a green baseball cap, the small boy wore a bright orange T-Shirt with the dove's foot peace symbol occupying the shirt's face, a simple request, never a simple answer.

From afar, the child tourist's face at least appeared in this moment, to offer pause, maybe hope, hope that someday, ribbons will only be used for things good, like apple pies, rose competitions, or a giant pumpkin.

It brings tears when ribbons hanging from an old iron fence just blocks from the Empire State building represent prayers for precious souls, souls taken so unfairly, so early. It's not fair that they can no longer participate in conversations about tolerance while sitting under trees amidst buildings that touch the sky. Those ribbons remind everyone that there are millions of broken hearts across the world thanks to the horror that the un-necessary human behavior war is.

On a small, plaque, in front of the increasingly weathered blues, golds and greens, a message from Marble Collegiate's Senior Minister, Arthur Calandro.

In it, he recalled attending a Quaker meeting after the first Gulf War in Iraq.

He said that of all the comments he heard that day, the one he remembered came from a man around his own age.

"I know how to protest war, but I don't know how to make peace," the Quaker said.

The message says that it seems that man at the Quaker meeting speaks for most of the world. The message went on to say we "continue to pray daily- we pray for the wounded-we pray for the day war is no longer an option.

Later, as observations of this fading New York afternoon on Fifth Avenue continued, a gentleman approached, and offered, "you know they (the church) have a website."

It turned out, the man was a New York City teacher, a man probably in his late 30's, soft spoken, kind, his knowledge of New York history obviously grand.

He shared an interesting fact, that this, the Marble Collegiate Church, is in fact, oldest place of worship of the Collegiate Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of the City of New York

"That explains the New Netherland enshrined on the stone," noted the cyclist.

"Yes," he confirmed.

He then shared that on Staten Island, there was a place called Richmond Town, a place that was full of history, a time capsule dating back to the 1600's where on some buildings one could still see holes from the bullets from the days of its founding, holes from the Revolutionary war.

But, perhaps, here on Fifth Avenue, as passers by, protected from the outside not by trees but by IPODS, Blackberries, the shelters of cabs, the indiscriminate bustling to and fro on our ways to places, drinks, dinners, new jobs, new lives, on our collective way to a new era in our nation's journey through time, despite those holes on Staten Island, despite the painful hole inside our own impressive skyline, there are holes even greater, and there are reminders everywhere, no matter where we are, that those are the holes in the hearts of those who lost someone, a Mother, A Father, daughter, son, lover and those are the holes that are all the more greater than anything history has to offer.

It is our pain and we are sharing it.

We human beings must someday figure out how to make peace.

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