I suspect that I am not alone, among Midwestern wasps, in my confusion over the whole middle eastern West Bank brouhaha. I was 13 when I first read Exodus by Leon Uris and it was the most powerful piece of historical fiction I had encountered in my young life. For me, even the drama of hemophilia and Rasputin was dwarfed by this book. Ten years later, when I was working as a cardiology technician while starting graduate school, I became friends with a young Lebanese intern, and with his wife and new baby. That was the 70s and the Jewish Defense League, of which I knew nothing and still know relatively little, was gathering steam in our university town. For no other reason than his ethnicity they haunted him with phone calls and letters, threatening to harm his family some night while he was working at the hospital. I was horrified. In true Midwestern fashion, I’m a very conflict avoidant person and more than once, listening to the evening news, I’ve exclaimed to myself, “Jesus Christ! Isn’t there room for everyone?” which only speaks to how naive and uninformed I must be.
Last night I went to the most wonderful birthday party. It was a concert at Grant Park celebrating Israel’s 60th birthday and a sizable portion of the city turned out. I have never seen the place as full as it was last night. The present was for us: Pinchas Zukerman, who coincidentally was born in Tel Aviv in 1948, played and conducted. With Jeremy Black, the first piece was Concerto in D minor for Two Violins and Orchestra by Bach. There was an interesting bit in the program about how one of Bach’s sons, Wilhelm Friedemann, turned into something of a derelict after his father died and sold or lost track of many of his father’s manuscripts. Apparently, the Brandenburg Concertos were sold in street markets for, literally, a dime. Ah, me. After that incredible performance, Zuckerman conducted Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4 and Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture.
So there we were, listening to this dazzling music and enjoying a glass of fine wine and I thought, “this is simply amazing. This free concert, this beautiful evening with friends, this spectacular venue and skyline, this city…what could be more wonderful?” And then there were three things. Above the sound of the orchestra there was the sound of a bird chirping and after I located the sparrow on one of the guy-wires to the stage I watched him take flight and dart into one of the recesses of Gehry’s metal plating construction on the Pritzker Pavilion. From then until it was too dark to see, I saw him and his mate go in and out, in and out, always returning to what is clearly their nesting spot, stage left. This vast field and pavilion and this tiny sparrow making all that ruckus, over and above the music.
I was still smiling about that when a peregrine falcon buzzed right in front of us, only about 5 feet off the ground, zip, zip, so fast I barely made him out. Larry, my neighbor, saw him too and we commented about it after the concert. I’m not sure whether he was sparrow hunting- I hope not- but it was startling to have him swoosh by so close right in the midst of thousands of people.
And then, as dusk was settling in for good, a tiny bat started winging it’s way in circles right over our heads. Back and forth, back and forth, fluttering about for insects.
The whole scene, all of a piece- that tiny but powerful nation celebrating a birthday, the musical genius, this urban bustle that I often times struggle with, and the aerial displays of nature right in the middle of it all- made me think, “Jesus, there is room for everybody.”
Have a great week! I’m off to the zoo.