The Day Before

On the evening of September 10, 2001, I attended a talk by former Senator George Mitchell at St. Bartholomew’s Church in Manhattan. He spoke mostly about his book Making Peace, an account of his role in the negotiations that led to Ireland’s Good Friday Agreement in 1998. 

Mitchell’s talk is available online. Fortunately C-SPAN’s Book TV recorded it. It’s long, but worth listening to, and the actual speech ends around the 44 minute mark; you can skip the Q&A.

I had been to Ireland with a friend in 1999 and thought it a beautiful country. We went off-season (in October) and were free to mosey around the country without crowds of tourists. One of our first visits was to Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin. It was a weekday morning (and, anyway, not our faith) so we were just there to admire the architecture. We happened to arrive just as the boys’ choir was finishing practice and the Minister led everyone assembled–the choir, tourists, and a few locals who seemed to know that this would take place–in a prayer for peace. Being vaguely aware of the previous year’s peace accord, it seemed particularly meaningful.

We were somewhat alarmed, on a later walk through Dublin, to see posters about an upcoming election from the Sinn Féin party. That’s the legitimate political party of the Irish Republican Army, who before the peace agreement had been responsible for some of “The Troubles.” But they’d gone legit and their political candidates were, to all appearances, following the law. Still, it was a little jarring in our otherwise relaxing vacation.

So as I listened to George Mitchell speak, I thought about Ireland. And I thought about the United States, where political violence was extremely rare and usually confined to isolated incidents. Yes, we have our problems, our own injustices–but people didn’t worry about bombings in our marketplaces or other public areas. Military personnel carrying rifles don’t patrol our streets.

I felt proud, perhaps comforted. Looking back, very soon after, I would describe that feeling as “smug.” 

Because the next morning, as I was showering and preparing to start the day, everything changed.

 

M*A*S*H: An Appreciation for 2017

One evening when I was in college I was hanging out with friends in their suite. Someone suggested we watch a re-run of M*A*S*H on television, but one friend, Mark, objected. He thought the show was crass, too many references to drinking and sex.

Fortunately the “yea” votes won out, and even more fortunately it chanced to be the episode titled “The Interview.” If you don’t remember the show, “The Interview” is filmed in black and white, a mock documentary in which a correspondent interviews the members of M*A*S*H 4077. (M*A*S*H,  by the way, stands for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.) Interestingly, it was not fully scripted: the actors answered the reporter’s questions in character.

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Image via Wikimedia Commons

“The Interview” is my favorite of all M*A*S*H episodes, and I might as well make full disclosure right now that I will argue here that M*A*S*H is the best television series of all time. Near the end of the documentary, the reporter asks each of the interviewees if he or she has anything to say to the folks back home. They do, and when B. J. Hunnicutt tells his wife and baby daughter that he misses them, my tears start to flow–every time.

And so they did, sitting in that dormitory suite. I glanced around the room hoping nobody would notice, but instead I saw Mark, the guy who’d objected to watching, brushing a hand at his eye. So did some others. Continue reading

Christina

On Christina Taylor Green’s first birthday, I spent the day on Vesey Street on the north side of St. Paul’s Chapel. In addition to being Christina’s birthday, it was the first anniversary of the September 11 attacks, and I was volunteering with the American Red Cross to check in family members attending the memorial service at Ground Zero, assigned to the check-in area

St. Paul’s is a lovely old church a few blocks from Trinity Church, with which it is affiliated, and almost directly across Church Street from the former site of the World Trade Center. After the September 11 attacks it became a respite center, both spiritual and physical, for recovery workers. They stomped into the chapel in their muddy work boots to rest, eat and sometimes to sleep on the pews. After the clean-up of the WTC site was completed, St. Paul’s was cleaned and became the home of a memorial to the rescue and recovery work. Despite the cleaning, a few scuffs remain from those muddy boots, and they are among the Chapel’s most sacred items.

On the wrought iron fence that surrounds St. Paul’s workers and visitors hung tributes to those who died on September 11 and those who worked at the site. On that long anniversary day I found myself going again and again to one t-shirt on the fence. It read: “The bravest thing a firefighter ever does is take the oath. After that it’s all in the line of duty.”

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