Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Autumn Leaves - Naive Thoughts on a Fall Day

This past Sunday was gorgeous with a clear sky, cool air, and low humidity. I drove my two sons to my parent’s place in Suffern, N.Y. and then further upstate N.Y. to my sister’s house in Mountainville. The reason for the trip was to leave my wife alone so she could study for her CPA exam. The peak of the foliage season has just passed, but it was still wonderful. The reds and particularly the yellows are exceptionally bright this year. Just enough leaves have fallen so that the ground was covered with yellow, read and brown; yet, the tress still have most of their leaves on. We went to see my niece’s basketball game, at St. Thomas of Canterbury in Cornwall. In town we stopped at a place called Prima Pizzeria, where we ate at a table outside. A gargantuan, old maple tree towered over the whole eating area like an umbrella, while yellow leaves and winged maple seeds cascaded down and around on us, as we drank and ate our iced tea, pizza and calzones. There was only one other party eating outside with us. They were four West Point cadets, in uniform, including two girls. (West Point is close by). The unsurprising surprise is they looked and acted so much like children. Everyone knows the formal, public relations image of disciplined West Pointer cadets, but it is refreshing to see them off base, acting like adolescents, which is what they are. One of the girls, who could have passed for a 13-year-old, whined that she hoped no one from the school sees her not wearing her uniform hat. One of the guys was wearing a long dew rag with his uniform, which was quite a sight! He was taking an even bigger risk than the girl, in the event an officer caught him. I couldn’t help but picture these young people against the images of the war in Iraq, of truck bombs and bullets, of the butchered flesh of once beautiful bodies, of amputees in rehabilitation, of coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base, and of grief stricken mothers. These cadet’s peers and seniors are getting killed and maimed overseas, and soon they will be in harm’s way themselves--the crème de al crème of American youth. Other cadets were passing on the sidewalk, including a group of Chinese-American cadets. Some teenaged boys and girls from the town, in spiked and purple hair, were milling around, and the punks and cadets got along like leaves from the same tree. I sensed some jealousy and envy on the part of the cadets towards the punks, plus a sense of respectful fun at the cadet’s expense on the part of the punks. The two groups are, in reality, peers after all, members of a shared culture of youth. The boy cadets were happily interacting with the girl punks and likewise between the girl cadets and the boy townies. I loved the peaceful, loving humanity of it all. Moreover, I must be abrupt and ask: How we can send beautiful children such as these off to war?

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