Sunday, December 05, 2004

Christmas In New York, 2004

I am in New York City for an appointment. It is early December, and the weather has just turned. I park my car near Tompkins Square and walk toward the cross town bus stop. I pass advertising for the neighborhood’s upcoming tree lighting ceremony, continuing down the square past a newly set up Christmas tree stand. The smell of the firs hits me, and I think to myself for the umpteenth time how special New York is--where else can you see a ritual as old as America itself, encounter the bracing smell of pine as you walk, and then order Indian food at four o’clock in the morning?

I am running late, so I hop a cab across town. I get in, and “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” is playing on the radio, and my reverie is shattered as that festering wound from another December in New York reopens with a vengeance. I was in New York the day after John Lennon was shot, changing buses at Port Authority to go to Philadelphia to see Bruce Springsteen play the Spectrum. The city was in a collective state of shock. It was a cold, gray day, and no one seemed to know what to do—we were all numb. How could this happen in the city that had welcomed John as one of its own, the place where he finally felt at home after years of exile from his mother country?

In Philadelphia that night, Springsteen and his band are also stunned by the loss. There has been some debate amongst them as to whether they should even be playing a show that night, but fortunately for us, they do. “It’s a hard world that asks you to live with the unlivable,” says Bruce after taking the stage to a vociferous yet somber reception at the Spectrum. “And it’s hard to come out and play for you tonight, but there’s nothing else to do.” That show, my first ever Springsteen concert, was truly otherworldly, one of the most intense experiences of my entire life. It was as if he was not just healing himself and his fans from tremendous sorrow that night--it was as if he were rescuing the soul of rock'n'roll, itself, like he was taking the mantle from John and carrying it forward.

And here it is, 24 years later, and this tremendous loss still feels like a knife twisting in my stomach. How could this have happened? And what are we doing in another needless war? Why are our sons and daughters dying again? And what would John have to say about it?

The cab continues across town, past Christmas lights and holiday window displays. “War is over/if you want it” sing John and Yoko. I wonder if we really do want it, or are we too self-absorbed to pay attention? My heart breaks all over again for the mothers and fathers, for the city of New York, for this country that has lost its way, and I wonder where we will be this time next year.

"And so this is Christmas/and what have you done?”

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