Are you are feeling a bit anxious about America's core values? Is Congress upsetting you, the news media infuriating you? Does it seem as though the end of rational thought as we know it is imminent?
Then I suggest you put down what you are doing and travel to Morton, Illinois for a refresher course in common sense and community values.
I was there this past weekend, just about as close as you can get to the Heartland of America, to participate in ceremonies and events associated with a visit from the Moving Wall, a traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
I was a guest of Larry Stimeling and American Legion Post 318, and to put it as succinctly as possible, these people know how to put on an event. Larry was the point man for a four-day series of panel discussions, commentary from Vietnam Veterans, entertainment, and the opportunity for Americans from throughout the area to visit the scaled-down duplicate of the memorial in Washington.
Larry and his associates left nothing to chance, and from the moment that Jerry Agles picked me up at the Peoria Airport to take me to the Ashland Best Western in Morton I knew I was in the presence of a class event. I highly recommend staying at the Ashland Best Western if you are in the area - and check out O'Flaherty's in the hotel if you are hungry or like a wide selection of Irish beers.
Larry and Jerry, with a lot of assistance from Morton American Legion Post 318 and Lodge #352 of the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, put in a yeoman's effort, and the final result was well worth it.
I have spoken at many events over the years and usually there is a core group of workers who do most of the heavy lifting to arrange things, with more helpers showing up as the event unfolds. That is not an insult to anyone, it is just a reflection of human nature.
Once the event is underway it takes a lot of hands to make sure it goes smoothly, handing chores such as transportation, meals, information assistance, helping put up and take down the wall, and filling in wherever needed.
But as I was putting final touches on the speech I was to deliver at the closing ceremonies on Sunday I looked at the back of the event program where the groups, businesses and individuals who had contributed were posted. I was amazed. The list was HUGE!
It seemed as though the entire community was in on the planning or execution in some way or another. Restaurants donated food, individuals and groups donated money, politicians from all parties were in abundance and wholly supportive - and I didn't see any of the political posturing that cynics expect at these events either. It was clear to me that Morton, Illinois represents an America that many of us yearn for, but that the mainstream media seems to be going out of its way to claim no longer exits.
Based on what I saw in Morton this past week, the media is wrong - again. How surprised are we at that?
To sum it up, I was privileged and honored to be part of a moving and important event in the nation's heartland. I hadn't been to that part of the country previously, not counting Chicago. But I made some friends there and you can bet I will be back to see them in the future.
Jesus Christ in Hartford
Do you believe in omens?
Well then, tell me what this would mean to you.
I board a plane in Peoria, Ill., to take a quick hop up to Chicago's O'Hare Airport where I will connect to another plane that will take me to Connecticut.
Just before the door of the plane closes (the one in Peoria) a passenger enters - a minister judging from his collar and the cross displayed on a chain hanging around his neck.
His assigned seat is next to mine. We exchanged pleasantries and then he went to work on his papers, maybe his next sermon, and I went to work on my crossword puzzle which is what I do when I fly.
The trip to Chicago is uneventful, we deplane, both end up on the shuttle from Concourse B to Concourse C, and all the way to my gate he keeps popping up. I'm beginning to wonder just what is going on, and then he disappears. I was only about 20 minutes away from boarding time on my next flight and I soon forgot about the last one.
I boarded the next plane, and took my window seat about two-thirds of the way toward the back of the plane, after which I started people watching, one of my all-time favorite leisure activities. After a while I noticed a group of young people, college age to mid-20s or so, heading my way.
I wasn't sure what to make of them, especially when a young man with a very deep voice who liked to sing "Yippee Ki O, Ki A," took the seat next to me. "Maybe spring breakers on their way home from somewhere," I mused. But as more and more entered the aircraft it was obvious that more and more of them knew each other, and I speculated that maybe they were a rock-n-roll band with a large entourage.
When the plane was full and everyone seated, one of the group who was behind me asked the man next to me how many performances they would be doing at their next stop.
By then my curiosity had overcome my good manners and I couldn't stop myself from asking "What are you performing."
OK, are you ready for this? Remember what I said about the first flight in the company of the minister? Well for the second part of my flight I was smack in the middle of the entire national touring company for the hit musical Jesus Christ Superstar!
Think someone is trying to tell me something?
As it turns out, my aisle mate was Darrel Whitney, a personable guy from Erie, PA, who plays the High Priest, Caiaphas.
Mary Magdalene was right in front of me, Pontius Pilate was across the aisle, the show's musical director was right behind me, and Jesus Christ, in the person of Ted Neeley who has played the role numerous times on stage and screen over thirty years, was three rows in front of me! I felt strangely ... secure, even when the ride was bumpy.
Darrel and I talked a bit and found out: he knows a lot about military aircraft which was an area of common interest; he eventually wants to teach social studies and do voice-overs as a second career; and that I studied Shakespeare in college and reviewed Jesus Christ Superstar for a Connecticut newspaper when the touring company came to the Bushnell Auditorium in the 90s.
Darrel invited me to come see the present incarnation of the show, which follows the traditional version - imagine that, Jesus Christ Superstar, now in its fourth decade, and was considered avant garde theater when it was first produced, actually has a "traditional" version.
This may seem like a lot to absorb, and I guess it is. Some people will see my journey as an omen, or at least a message, others will say it is sheer coincidence and I am making too much of it.
Nonetheless, I will be going to the Bushnell Auditorium in Hartford one evening this week to watch Jesus Christ Superstar. I'll also be taking my family, since my youngest has yet to see the stage production and I think she'll enjoy it.
Make of that what you will.
Tuesday, May 06, 2008