Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Rest of the Story

I mentioned yesterday that part of the weekend's disaster involved a trip to the San Antonio Zoo. Today I'll share the rest of the story, and it's unfortunately not another setpiece of dark comedy.

Believe it or not, it involves Sea World.

We were on our way to the White Whale and Dolphin stadium to see a show. I had briefly separated from Eli 3.9 and Gloria because I wanted to get a drink, and on my way back I saw them.

Not Eli and Gloria, even though it reads that way. Clearly, I have sentence construction issues.

No, "them" were two people walking quickly to get to the stadium before the show started.

I saw her first. One look and I knew she should have been wearing a t-shirt that said "I Heart Churning Butter." It was Sarah Plain and Tall, standing right in front of me. She was wearing a forest green dress, as anachronistic as it was striking, and on her head was a white bonnet.

A BONNET, people. She belonged in an episode of The Land That Time Forgot.

I think she was about twenty, maybe not quite that old, and she was with a man who was about her age, a boy who had just recently become a man. He wore blue jeans, but he also wore suspenders and a straw hat, and his uneven beard made it clear that he was Joseph Plain and Tall.

As I was watching them, they smiled at each other and gleefully headed for the show.

For some reason, the only word I could think of when I saw them was "Mennonite."

I had a surprising reaction--for me. I didn't immediately think about how I could write about them. I do that now--the first thing that comes into my mind is how I'll write about something. It's an auto-pilot mechanism, one I'm very familiar with, but it didn't engage this time. Instead, the one word in my head was "comfort." It was very, very comforting to see these people who lived so simply, who were so innocent compared to the rest of us.

If you don't life in the U.S., it may be hard to understand. Let me briefly explain how it is in this country now. 45% of the country bitterly hates another 45%, and vice versa. Only about 10% of the country has any sensibility left whatsoever, and this 10% is hated by the other 90%. In this environment, it's very difficult to read the national news without getting nauseous.

And it's overwhelming. The partisanship saturates almost everything. It's why I don't talk about politics in this column, because this is one place where I (and you) can get away from them. I only mention it now to help you better understand my frame of mind when I saw Sarah and Joseph. There was a lightness about their naivete that was deeply compelling. It was happy. I felt happy just seeing them happy. It was a wonderful moment, one that stayed with me for the rest of the day. Everything about those few seconds was so sharp and clear.

The next morning I see on the front page of the newspaper that seven Mennonites, traveling from Mexico to Canada for a wedding, were killed by a drunken driver just outside San Antonio.

As soon as I read the headline I knew that the two happy people I'd seen the day before were dead.

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