The Birth of Prostrations For Peace
Next week I will reach that milestone of adulthood and turn fifty. How and why a day on a calendar has come to have such psychological and almost spiritual significance, I’m not sure. Most people in the world don’t even live to fifty nor have the time or money to consider making a to-do about it. I’m HIV +, and I remember that I didn’t even think I’d turn 40, but here it is.
When my sister turned 50 two years ago, my brother-in-law had a big party for her. It was a joyous and raucous evening, friends and family coming from afar, toasts by her children, gag gifts, funny then emotional speeches. I was happy for her, but inside I dreaded the whole idea that in a year it would be my turn.
As the months passed, the date loomed, and I had no plans, no money to travel, which is usually my way out of all birthdays and holidays as a single man.
Then, Memorial Day came. I was sitting on the pier off of North Shore Beach in Roger’s Park, which is where I spend almost every morning doing yoga or resting after taking a long swim. I was feeling energized and grateful for this beach and the lake and my neighbors I see out here everyday. Over the years no matter where I have lived in Chicago, the lakefront has always been a sort of refuge for me in difficult times. Often it’s not so much the wide span of blue that changes my mood but watching the effect it has on other people’s bodies, especially children and older people.
Later, that day I read through the headlines of the suicide bombs exploding and saw the photos of the shrieking Iraqi women with their hands to their mouths. On TV, there was more of the same as well as the now familiar scroll of American dead, most all under the age of twenty-five and from unknown towns across America. Then I saw the name of a town in Indiana not far from where I grew up, where old aunts and uncles still live. And a rage came over me and all at once I’m feeling the awkwardness of my birthday and my loneliness and all of my problems begin to feel like bombs exploding now inside of me.
Once again, the news from the war has sucked out the sunny day and the buoyancy in my body.
That night walking along the lake one more time with the families and the couples strolling along the beach, I had an idea—a crazy idea.
Why not use this day to have another kind of ceremony? Why not invite my friends and family, all my neighbors, and, in fact the whole city of Chicago to this beach where I seem best able to cope? Why not invite them to confront with me the suffering of this war? Why not ask them to come and create a kind of organic altar to peace? To pray, bow, offer flowers, or whatever they feel in their heart they need to express?
The audacity of this thought made me laugh. But the next day back at the beach I told a friend of mine, a man I met strangely enough one morning far out in the lake as I swam by him and his wife. To my surprise, his answer was swift and serious. “Great idea! Let’s do it!”
A week later several of my friends are sitting around me at the Heartland Café, planning a ceremony that had nothing to do with my neurotic fears about my 50th birthday.
My friends and I don’t have the answers to this endless war. But what we do know and feel is a need to express our frustration and sadness, our common sense of grief and outrage at the useless suffering this war has brought to the people of Iraq, to our soldiers and their families, to our nation, and to the people of the world.