Participation

I got to the el station to head downtown to join the rally and march before 9:00 AM. It was easy to spot others with the same destination.

Quite a few wore pink knit “pussy” hats. Many of them carried signs.

I joked with a few ladies while we waited for the next train.

“I couldn’t bear to watch the TV during the inauguration yesterday,” I confessed. “I had root canal done.”

The information was true enough. I spent a good part of the previous morning with an endodontic specialist. The implication in my statement, though, was that I would rather have painful dental work than see the man I’ve come to refer to as the NIC (Narcissist In Chief) put his hand on Lincoln’s bible and take the oath of office.

The train car was filled to capacity within two stops of where I got on, and I am only 3 stops form the end of the line. There were young women and old hippies, gangs of gal pals and feminists of all sexes. Quite a few families made a special outing out of the occasion.

The crowds on the street were huge.   After I got home later in the day, I Googled crowd estimates. Maybe 250,000 showed up for the Women’s March in Chicago on an unseasonably warm January afternoon.

Through my post-march web surfing, I took note that there were over 150 marches around the world. People in London, Paris, Madrid, Sydney, New Delhi, and Manila (among other locations) marched in solidarity.

Led by the idea that women’s rights are synonymous with human rights, other causes seemed to align perfectly. Everything comes down to mutual respect and kindness, doesn’t it?

Along with throngs of people disembarking from trains, buses and cars, I was guided to a bridge (on Van Buren or Balbo) because there was no more room at the publicized staging area. Here, we waited until the foot traffic (the marchers) started moving.

We couldn’t hear any of the speeches from where we were…but we smiled at each other. We were glad we came.

After 90 minutes of watching the crowd expand like lungs filling up with fresh air, we started moving along a planned route. The marching route was supposed to end with a rally at the federal plaza, but this had to be canceled.  The crowd was too large to assemble there.

Very deliberately and peaceably we started to go west where we made a right turn at Wabash Avenue. A loud rhythmic chant seemed to rise up spontaneously, not amplified but very strong.

NO HATE. NO FEAR. EVERYONE IS WELCOME HERE. As we marched north, it was hard not to notice Trump Tower in the distance.

Under the shadow of the el train, just beginning to realize how large a group we were, we broke into THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE. Our voices drowned out the sound of trains rumbling overhead.

Everyone had their cellphones out to snap pictures of the signs. We all wanted to remember this personally inspiring and historic day.

Looking at all the signs felt like getting to know everyone as individuals.

Some signs were philosophical, proclaiming WOMEN’S RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS and QUALITY MEN WANT EQUALITY FOR WOMEN, or THE FUTURE IS FEMALE.

Other signs reflected the intergenerational aspect of the experience. Young girls, who probably hadn’t yet mastered large-scale printing, held up hand-drawn pictures of roaring grizzly bears, in homage to Helen Reddy’s classic song, “I Am Woman. Hear me Roar.

I came across a ten-year old boy, carrying a dark sign, lettered in gold marker. I AM MARCHING FOR MY MOTHER. (MY BABY SITTER, I’M NOT TOO CRAZY ABOUT).

Some slogans were tongue in cheek and political. Riffing off the THANKS OBAMA video which went viral showing Obama unable to dunk a large cookie in a narrow glass of milk, a visual metaphor for how he was often blamed for anything that was wrong, even things out of his scope, I saw a THANKS PUTIN sign.

Eerily representing the state of news reporting, referring to the size of the crowd, another sign read FOX NEWS WILL LIE ABOUT THIS.

Many signs expressed a more personal pain. One read WHY DON’T MORE RAPE VICTIMS REPORT THEIR EXPERIENCE? 20 DID AND THE MAN ACCUSED BECAME PRESIDENT.

Whether on the ground marching alongside of each other or from above – We were beautiful!

Making a quick stop at Walgreens to buy poster board and a Sharpie to express yourself before meeting up with 250,000 other souls who want to show up in the world is no small thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ninth Candle

I really enjoy visiting my Orthodox Jewish friends during the holidays. I refer to my parents as Lox ‘n’ Bagel Jews because, for them, practicing Judaism revolved around attending secular humanist lectures at our temple and eating foods favored by other Members of the Tribe.

It feels fresh and especially sweet to me to take part in Jewish traditions that are carried out with great heart and respect.

Just a few weeks ago, I was a dinner guest at my friend’s Hanukah (or do you say Chanukka?) celebration. Each guest was allowed to light their own menorah. The latkes were homemade (not from Trader Joe’s) and philosophical repartee was flowing.

I’m so appreciative of how my hosts welcome friends into their home; how they encourage me to take part in the rituals without making me feel stupid or ashamed because I don’t speak Hebrew and am only loosely familiar with the prayers.

I loved watching the candles’ flames from my menorah blazing alongside of the lights from other menorahs.

When there was a break in the eating (Did I mention the hostess made jelly-filled donuts?), our table leader asked everyone if we would weigh in on our understanding of the significance of the holiday.

After invoking a favorite explanation from Austrian Jewish actor Theodore Bickel (“We won. They lost. Let’s eat!”), we went around the room contributing our own commentary on the significance of the historical events that spawned the celebration.

After sharing what we all learned in Sunday school, about how the a small band of Israeli soldiers, the Maccabees (think Special Forces), beat a larger and much better resourced army and how a small supply of oil that was meant to provide light for one day actually lasted for eight days, the host proposed that the primary theme of the holiday was little vs. big.

This compelled many around the table to draw parallels to the continued position of Israel, a country trying to survive in a world of much bigger Arab states. Many guests not only saw Israel as Little in a world of Big, they declared Israel to be GOOD amid a sea of EVIL

Some guests strongly condemned the US for not supporting Israel’s policy of building new developments in a geography, which could turn into a home for Palestinians.

A few guests, including me, were taken aback by how this celebration turned into a political forum.

One guest brought up that she was uncomfortable that dinner table talk turned in this direction. She also pointed out that we need to remember multiple sides to the situation, how the Palestinians have also occupied this space for many years and how important having a home is to them, something Israelis should certainly understand.

Before I left my friends’ house, I thanked the host for inviting me and expressed how moved I was by seeing the flames of the many menorahs. I thought about how, together, they formed one great light. I wanted the ritual of lighting one more flame each night to go on forever. I remember saying something about wanting to be the 9th candle.

In another nod to the theme of big and little, I was drawn to think about distinctions in size; how to any one individual, degree is not so important. I want to remember not to stop acting from my heart because I’m locked in to the idea that my actions alone are not significant.

I want to act from my heart in all things. My declaration came from wanting to add light in the world, no matter the amount.

In the following days, I kept thinking about big and little and how upset I was by the discussion turning political

It’s almost reflexive that a group of people, especially one with a history such as the Jews, would see the world as us vs. them. It’s understandable to be concerned with survival of your heritage.

I also think that everyone is being called on now to be BIGGER than they might have been in the past; to remember what we all have in common and think less in terms of us vs. them.

Don’t we all want our families to have a home?  Don’t we all want to pursue our individual talents and feel secure that we can enjoy the fruits of our labor?

I hope that Jews and non-Jews can move towards identifying with their BIGGER selves and with the whole of humanity.

Being able to celebrate your traditions and culture but not letting history confine you is no small thing.

White Christmas

Some families make a yearly ritual out of dragging home a Frazier Fir from a parking lot/temporary nursery. Many mother-daughter duos go into a cookie baking frenzy that would put Pepperidge Farm to shame.

My annual Christmas tradition involves going to the Music Box Theatre for their annual Christmas show.

For two weeks leading up to the 25th, they offer a double feature consisting of Frank Capra’s classic It’s a Wonderful Life and the very camp musical, White Christmas starring crooner Big Crosby and childhood favorite funnyman, Danny Kaye.

Anchored by a sing-along with Santa and house organist, even a Grinch couldn’t help but break into a smile. I usually skip It’s a Wonderful Life (content to view one of its many airings on TV) and come out with a group of friends for White Christmas (and the sing-along).

I’ve been observing this tradition for around fifteen years.

I’m always amazed by how tiny Vera Ellen’s waist is, shown off in many of the dance numbers. I think about Rosemary Clooney’s connection to heart throb George Clooney. I never fail to laugh at the line housekeeper Emma says in reference to her job for Major General Tom Waverly; that she alone could do the job previously performed by 15,000 men -– even though I’ve heard the line dozens of times.

Going to the Music Box for White Christmas…It’s so familiar. I know almost every line. But it’s never boring.

I like to introduce new people to this cherished tradition.  It helps keep the tradition fresh.

My friend Holly fist introduced me to White Christmas at the Music Box years ago. We now wear our red Santa hats or reindeer headbands and try to invite another friend who has never been before.

Over the years, I’ve brought along, Susan C. and Nancy R. and Sandy and Rob and others. My pleasure seems to be enhanced by thinking that my friends are having a memorable first time experience.

During some of the musical numbers or audience participation parts (like when an over-served audience member makes a ba-a-a-ah bleating sound during the Crosby-Clooney lyric “When I’m worried and cannot sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep…”), I’ll catch myself looking down the row to catch the expression of the White Christmas newbie I brought.

I try to remember my own first time.

I want them to love the tradition as much as I do. It’s not just about the movie, which features great songs and dances and the wonderful irony of a nice Jewish boy from New York, Irving Berlin, creating one of most beloved Christmas songs. It’s about being in a large auditorium where EVERYONE is practicing their own family ritual within a bigger one.

I can make out groups of people who BELONG to each other. Groups of individuals will be dressed as elves, or WWII soldiers, or reindeer, or decked out in some costume from the movie.

And doesn’t that reflect a bigger story; that within our tribe, we belong to a larger family?

We all know the lyrics to fuller or lesser degrees. We all forget lines and can’t get others out of our heads.

After having such a good time, many of us will think about who we can invite next year.

Sharing a tradition with your peeps and inviting new people to share something you love in the company of others doing the same is no small thing.

 

Funny AND Poignant

make-tacosPretty much every year, I visit the Day of the Dead exhibit at the National Museum of Mexican Art in the Pilsen neighborhood.

This year marked the 30th anniversary of a public exhibition being held in Chicago. The theme for this year’s exhibition was Dia de los Muertos: Journey of the Soul.

There’s a longstanding Mexican tradition of honoring deceased loved ones by building and decorating altars that reflect their individual lives. That each altar finds a way to penetrate the hearts of total strangers is a testament to shared experience.

Like art, in general, the more personal a display is, the more universal it feels to someone taking it in.

Far from morbid, in showcasing the deceased’s guitars or family photos, favorite foods, things they made, or pictures of celebrity crushes, it feels like a very authentic way to cherish a life.

Unlike Halloween, which is mostly about candy and originality in costumes, the November 1st holiday is for giving each soul a time for remembrance and respect befitting the human life they lived.

In altars and collections of objects curated very thoughtfully and assembled with great care, I’m always struck by the LOVE that’s present.

It’s easy to think that an individual life does not matter much – not in the grand scheme of things –- then walking through an exhibit such as this reminds me that so much love is created around each person’s life and the connections he makes.

Oh, there were some wonderful displays. There was a great textile of an androgynous looking male Tejano singer who crossed the border illegally and managed to create quite a following in his short life.

I lingered on the offendres (offerings) on display for a Chicago cop who gave his life in the line of duty. Accompanying the memorabilia showing him as a family man were accessories for his uniform, which, he was most certainly proud to wear.

I love the museum itself, comparatively small in a city of museums, but somehow always managing to be fresh and familiar at the same time.

I love the Lady of Guadalupe renderings, the divine feminine having such an important place in the culture, and I’m usually affected by the political or social angle of current murals and installations.

After I finished walking through The Day of the Dead: Journey of the Soul exhibit, I walked around other collections at the museum. I did a double take when I saw a simple neon lighted sign above an archway.

MAKE TACOS NOT WAR.

At first I laughed at the twist on the “Make love not war” theme. Then I thought about the sadness that settled over me after the presidential election results were announced.

Since November 9th, I have been in such a high level of disbelief and anxiety about the Bully in Chief assuming the position of such a great influence in the world — over my life.

I thought about Herr Trump’s vow to build a wall between the US and Mexico. What an absurd idea! We need to be more connected to our hearts, not cut off from a culture that reminds us to feel, to remember our humanity.

Was it possible that such a simple message could be funny and so poignant at the same time?

Perhaps that’s a special power of art, too, that apparent opposites can occupy the same space in your thoughts.

Laughing and crying with the same breath is no small thing.