Sunday in the Park
Not everyone will have themselves a merry little Christmas. Our soldiers in Iraq, for example, may make the yuletide bright only with explosives. And please don’t call them troops, as in "three troops were killed in the fighting today." Three people were killed. Three humans. Sons, brothers, fathers, lovers, a sister, mother, daughter, friend. Individuals, formerly living, breathing — dying daily, in a war we never should have entered, and that we can’t figure out how to exit.
It is a rare day I agree with a Republican politician, and Alan Simpson from Wyoming is a 75-year-old man with a lot of views I don’t share. But I listened to the National Public Radio report where Simpson, a member of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, commented about the report and process used to reach compromise. Then, he said something so obvious, so extraordinary in its ordinary common sense, I was forced to picture the object he mentioned that I remembered from so many televised news reports of my youth.
Here’s an excerpt from his comments
"We talked with the Soviet Union. We had a phone next to each other for 40 years. Anybody forgotten that? We didn’t blow each other up. That’s what you do with Iran. It’s what you do with North Korea. You start talking "
The red phone. I don’t know if it was really red but that’s the way I remember it. That’s certainly what it was called. I think it started during the Bay of Pigs crisis but I could be wrong. It feels like it was a Kennedy-era thing. But maybe not JFK. Maybe the phone came with LBJ and the other Kennedy, Bobby, who served as Attorney General and became a Senator. Yes, it was a Cold War but there was a window where change felt possible. In fact, change was all I knew growing up.
I was born, like all Baby Boomers, during that blissful Eisenhower/Ozzie and Harriet period of America. Folks just wanted to enjoy the prosperity promised them after the war. The Korean Conflict was a messy border dispute but not a world war.
I was in the seventh grade when President Kennedy was shot. School was cancelled and for days we were glued to our television sets watching the procession and the bloodless transfer of power unfold. Then it was April, of my junior year in high school, when Dr. Martin Luther King was shot. And footage from that tragedy played over and over and there were more days of national mourning and complex questions about violence in America and race relations and politics gone bad.
Bobby Kennedy was running for president. The conflict in Southeast Asia had become an untenable, unwinnable war. It was televised for us in dying color on the nightly news. Conventional wisdom was, the California primary on June 6 would seal or sink Kennedy’s campaign. Kennedy was boldly against the war in Vietnam. He was boldly for equality for all Americans. He had the reflected glory of his brother, but many felt Bobby to be the better politician and somehow the better man. We had watched him care for his brother’s family along with his own big brood. And yes, his privileged upbringing in a family with a shady past in the liquor business was part of his portrait, too. Still, Bobby somehow had made himself enormously popular with the common man of every color. And in that spring, he represented the hope that "lone assassins" (will we ever know if that is true?) had tried to take away.
Last weekend my movie buddy and I went to the film, "Bobby." It is a complex day-in-the-life-look at 22 different people, there in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, on the day Bobby Kennedy would arrive to make his acceptance speech after winning the California Primary. The film does a remarkable job of reminding us (those of us of certain age) the way we were. Not leaving out how we looked, and yes, I remember having blue eye shadow the exact color of Sharon Stone’s beauty shop-operator character’s upper lids. The movie is an all-star cast of mostly A-list actors in what many would label B-cast roles. Which brings to mind that old quote — there are no small roles, only small actors — or something in that range.
From Harry Belafonte as the retired doorman playing chess with fellow retiree, Anthony Hopkins, to Laurence Fishburne as the cook in the racially charged kitchen, to Demi Moore as the drunk, unglamorous, fading glamorous singer, the cast is surprising and stellar. Not a fan of Aston Kutcher in anything else, I found him ever-so-credible as a drug dealer in the ’60s. Not that I knew any drug dealers then. And those scenes provide the very few light moments in the film.
Because yes, the film is intense and history already showed us the ending. So I sat in the dark theater with my dear friend who looked at me at the end and laughed softly and said, "Will you ever learn to bring tissues with you?" as she handed over a designer package of tissues. The footage from that era the political sound bites, the clips from the war, the bra burnings, and the hippies in psychedelic splendor, produced a kind of post traumatic stress syndrome/flashback all at once. My high school sweetheart, who became my husband and the father of my children, drew a high number (or was it low number? I don’t remember anymore), which meant he was not going to be drafted and sent to Vietnam. I had forgotten all that, all those emotions, all those disappointments "deferred dreams" as Langston Hughes once wrote.
So this week, when I read the first sentence in the executive summary of the Iraq Study Group and it stated in simple, plain language "The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating." I thought of my sister’s grandson who is serving with the 101st Division, and has already spent two years in Iraq and is currently home to be married, only to return to a front, I thought about Tim and what his Christmas would be like. Because the bipartisan report says "There is no path that can guarantee success " and "the challenges are daunting" and "the enemy is everybody there " Sunnis, Shiites, al Qaeda, death squads and "widespread criminality."
And I wish I could reach President Bush and ask him to do just one small thing this holiday season. Something already recommended by leaders in his own party. Pick up the phone. Start talking.
He could do it any day now. Maybe even this Sunday, as we keep all those serving this season in our hearts, in the Park
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