New York City, invigorating, powerful and proud. Through nearly half a century, this wonderful city on the Hudson beckons to me. Sleeping in a tractor and trailer at a pier, staying in hotels too nasty to rate an "avoid" in guide books, staying with friends on the Upper East Side and in the best suites in the best hotels, I am part of this city and its history. I don't live here, but through the years I am here.
Walking the crowded holiday decorated streets, you are almost overpowered by the shear diversity and outright strength that makes up New York. Some claim that rural and small town America is the home of "real Americans". Not true at all. When America was attacked, New York City and its people bore the brunt, not Mayberry. This amazing city is the heart of America filled with both promise and pain. The streets are jammed with people of a thousand shades and a hundred tongues. This city is America!
Standing in Times Square watching a tribute to veterans, I was struck by the fact that the faces on the street mirrored both the photo collages of our recent war dead and the faces in the waiting rooms at Walter Reed. Both our talented and promising and our outcasts and unusual migrate to the city to thrive and strive. The rest of America appears as neighborhoods of this great city. Is New York the home of "real Americans"? The citizens would deny it. New Yorkers gather from all over the nation and abroad; where they come from and what they are reaffirms that we are all "real Americans," even those "pesky" immigrants. What the nation sometimes forgets but as we found out on 9/11, we are all New Yorkers.
South Pacific, the Broadway revival play that won seven Tony Awards, is running at the Lincoln Center. As a treat, we attended a showing. My thoughts were of classic Broadway tunes and a relaxing break. Surprise! This musical is about war and race and prejudice. As a military man, albeit far removed from WWII and the Pacific, I immediately recognized the themes and indeed many of the individuals and situations. The show was a Broadway hit from 1949 until 1954 and must have held tremendous immediacy and nostalgia for the vast veteran audience of the day. Whether racist or not, the audiences must have left the showings deeply troubled. While praising the service of millions of decidedly lonely and yet resilient military people, the play doesn't hesitate to acknowledge the stain of ongoing racial prejudice in America. They would have left the theater whistling or humming great tunes as we did but also contemplating the unfinished business of race and sex in America.
This weekend leaving the theater amid all the holiday decorations, we walked humming, arm in arm down the sidewalk, I gave a thought to Michener, who wrote the tale, and all those audiences and veterans doing the very same thing nearly 60 years ago. They would be very proud of our nation at this minute. The problems confronting us are nearly as great as those that generation had already faced; but we, the nation, did the right and courageous thing on 4 November and we will do the right things from here on out. Enjoy your holiday season and give a thought to the history of the nation and those who serve. They earned it and so did you. Happy Holidays.
Follow Hal Donahue on Twitter: www.twitter.com/haldonahue