Monday, October 9, 2017

Between the essence and the descent, Washington and Vietnam, the East Village and Brooklyn

After the CD ten days ago in Washington, the police said we could post and forfeit and that we were free to go.  But we’d have to come back the next day to pay our fines.
Can I pay it online, I asked.
You have to come back, the police replied.

Do you wanna drive to DC with me, I asked mom the next day.
So Mom and I made plans to go to DC to pay my fine and visit a few museums.
Have you been to the Vietnam memorial I asked mom.
Lets go.
So I left Brooklyn Friday morning, swinging through Princeton to pick her up.
For years when we were kids, we took road trips throughout the East Coast, the South, up and down the Northeast to Hockey games, etc.
Mom navigated the trail.  She was always in charge.  And that was still the case.  As soon as we left, we immediately started bickering about the route to DC. 
The GPS said go this way.
She wanted to go that way.
But what if I know the best way is to go that way, she added.
Can we just follow the GPS?
Mom is always in charge.
So we drove, chatting, making our way through traffic from Delaware to Baltimore to DC.
I wish you’d maybe pick one or two issues to work on, not everything, she lamented, fretting about my activism.
I do Mom, believe me.
Well, maybe one day you can let others do this?
Mom, democracy is crumbling, I replied as walked from Union Station over to the police precinct.
It’s the first time I have been to a police precinct, she laughed.
Have you ever been to a police processing center? I asked her as we walked.
 In my 79 years, I have never been. If the ladies at the garden club ask what I did, I have a story I can tell them.
So, we walked over to pay my fine.
I asked the police where I could pay.
Who are you with they asked.
The healthcare activists that disrupted the hearing last week.
They nodded.
The police in DC are polite in a way NYPD are rarely.
They seem to understand that protest is part of democracy here.
It’s a part of a conversation about war and peace, struggles against tyranny and democracy in America.

Is the Vietnam memorial close I asked when I was done wrapping up the paperwork.
Walking over I thought about what Caroline’s dad Al had said to me earlier in the day:
It, the Vietnam war, changed my life in ways I could not imagine at the time.  I would have gone in so many other directions, to West Point. But the draft made us all decide.
The whole country had to decide where we stood.
Walking over to the memorial, we descended the granite sidewalk, below the horizon, lost in the memories of the space, walls of lists into Dante’s inferno.
Name after name, listed in granite.  Lost lives, mostly kids who were drafted, some ambushed in raids on their first days in the woods, others who took part in the Mỹ Lai Massacre of between 347 and 504 unarmed civilians in South Vietnam on March 16, 1968.  War is always hell.  It brings us all to that place.
Am I in your way, an old Veteran said to me.
No, its just hard to take it all in, emotions welling up.
People were placing makeshift memorials there, looking up names. 
I’m glad Dion’s name is not listed here, mom reflected, thinking about her best friend who served there.
My Uncle served, while my Dad’s dad told him to stay away from the conflict once he was done with officer’s candidate school.
Dad dodged that bullet, but many did not.
Few lives were left unscathed by this mistake of mistakes.
Maybe the US itself was not left unscathed.
Its the lesson we never learn.  
Its hard to imagine a place and time before this failure,
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the shadow

Finishing our visit, Mom and I drove back, talking for hours and hours, sharing a coffee here, a story there.
Some of the happiest moments of our childhoods took place on these drives.
Mom reading to us.
Driving we shared stories about the south, the civil rights years, her sister, and her grandfather, as we talked and talked and talked into the night.
What were your happiest memories, I asked.
Its hard to remember, but reading the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe with you boys, being with my grandfather in the Highlands. 
We talked and drove and looked out into the night.
Back in New York, we enjoyed the weekend in holy Brooklyn, watching boat races on the Gowanus, swimming at the Russian baths, to Judson, wandering through the East Village.
The little one played a part in a Pussy Riot video today. Proud and excited. They really are their own people these days.

number two as pussy riot ... photo by caroline shepard

I was glad to be home.

Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thing is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends - TS Elliot

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