The Purple of Life

She told me to hold on to the purple in my life.

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Location: Chicago, United States

I'm a 37-year-old editor and city dweller, wife and mother, moderately liberal and radically optimistic. I would fill my perfect day with a cup of coffee and the Op Ed section, a flea market and the playground, a run along Lake Michigan, a walk through the neighborhood with my son and my greyhound, a Cuban dinner and a bottle of red with my husband, and an evening flight to some European city. I wouldn't be picky about which one.

March 24, 2003

When the war started last Wednesday night

Originally posted to Diary-X on March 24, 2003

When the war started last Wednesday night, I was checking my email and drinking a glass of merlot, a rerun of Law & Order droning on in the next room. I’d just gotten home after taking the final exam for my winter class. I felt a bit drained from the sense of dread that was pervading the country and the massive amount of studying I’d been doing to prepare for my test.

Around 8:30 or so, Law & Order was suddenly interrupted by Tom Brokaw. Breaking news: we were attacking. It was happening. No one had expected it to begin that night, and it wasn’t the “shock and awe” campaign we’d been promised. (Is anyone as sick as I am of hearing those three words? So many buzzwords and catchphrases are flying around…they make my brain tired.) I moved immediately to the living room and stood in front of the TV. I feel like I’ve spent a good portion of my time since then in the presence of news sources—CNN, NBC, the Chicago Tribune,, NPR.

The pictures on the screen that night weren’t particularly harrowing—a flash of light here and there, then the calm Baghdad skyline, the outline of mosques spiking up in the distance. The sun beginning to rise. Quiet streets. Journalists filling the silence with speculations. But I kept watching, because at any minute, something could happen, and I didn’t want to miss it. News blurbs crawled along the bottom of the screen, every so often a word misspelled. I thought of the days following September 11, 2001.

Suddenly, something flashed white outside my windows. Lightning, then thunder. I heard sirens. What were the chances of a thunderstorm here within minutes of our first strike in Iraq? That a Midwestern city of edgy people would be subjected to those loud cracks and booms, those wailing sirens? Murphy was skittish because of the noise, and John was still at work, and the pictures on the TV were real.

It was not one of my calmest moments, although the merlot helped.

On my way home from work the next day, I spontaneously decided to head over to the peace rally being held downtown at the Federal Plaza. I’d never been to a rally and wanted to see it, absorb the feeling of it. I could hear the chanting several blocks away, and as I reached the intersection of Adams and Dearborn, I was shocked at the size of the crowd—so, so many people crammed together, waving signs and placards and flags in the air, chanting and cheering as someone bellowed anti-war statements from a microphone. Police were everywhere—on horseback, in helmeted riot gear. All around me the city was alive and moving: people in suits heading home, high school students from the suburbs wearing peace pins, nuns and priests gathered together quietly in knots, homeless people shaking their cans of coins. It had rained earlier in the day, and the red and blue light from neon signs shone on the wet pavement. Cars honked, the train rumbled by on its elevated tracks, the crowd roared. I stood on the street corner, not within the mass of protesters, but not completely detached from them, either.

While I watched, I jotted down some of the slogans on the protesters’ signs:
“Who would Jesus bomb?”
“I am in shock, not in awe”
“Bush: c’mon man, you’re killing me” (accompanied by picture of a soldier in camo)
“Support our troops—bring them home”
“Babies for Peace” (attached to a stroller)
“Sacrifice our SUVs, not our children”
“Supersize my French fries”
“Money for jobs, not for war”
“Faux News”
“If someone bombed us for every act of terrorism we've committed, there'd be no America left”
”God Forgive America”

I left after about 20 minutes, feeling a bit calmer than I had the night before, but also slightly in awe of what I’d witnessed. We’re living through an event that will be written about in history books, that our children will study. About half-hour after I left the rally, thousands of people—some say almost 10,000—marched eastward through the city to Lake Shore Drive, one of Chicago’s main arteries, and flowed into rush-hour traffic as an act of civil disobedience. Commuters were backed up for miles—the news helicopter footage was quite impressive. A colleague of mine was part of the crowd, and the next day he commented on how shocked he was by the support of the drivers. Hardly anyone yelled or otherwise showed anger toward the protesters.

So now, what else can I say? There are so many voices babbling on about Operation Iraqi Freedom (I still can't believe they're calling it that); I’m not sure mine needs to be added to the cacophony. My opinions shift and slide daily. I feel cynical and suspicious and scared and sad and doubtful. I support our troops (another catchphrase), and I don’t support our president. I felt a strong wave of horror when I heard about the American POWs. Sometimes I think, Wait a minute—why is it that we’re over there?, and the whole concept seems completely ludicrous to me. But it’s happening, and all I can do is watch and pray, and go about the business of my little life. I have to believe that someone’s in control of all this, somehow.

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