I was heading into the city today for a class on Jewish social ethics.
At the Grand Army Plaza subway station, waiting on the stairs above the platform, was a young soldier, dressed casually but carrying a U.S. Mililtary issue duffel bag and backpack, in camouflage green. He was young. Very young.
I asked for his name, shook his hand and asked, "Shipping out?"
"Yes, sir," he answered. "To Iraq." After a brief pause he added, "Today."
Same train, entirely different destinations.
I got his name and wished him well.
When I arrived in the city, traffic was blocked by the NYPD all around a small restaurant on West Third Street in the Village where President Obama and President Clinton were having lunch, his speech on Wall Street already over. As far as the eye could see, police protection--normal for any president but I was grateful in particular for the protection offered President Obama, given the horrifying rage that has come to dominate our political discourse. In some states in these United States, people show up with guns to greet the President. Thank God that's not the case in New York City.
My mind wandered back to the young soldier, alone on the platform in Brooklyn, heading off to war--unprotected. And our President, out for a meal, protected by an army of the NYPD and the Secret Service.
Walking to class, I said quietly:
"To the young soldier whose name I'll remember, I wish you well in your mission. Go in peace and return to your family and friends here in Brooklyn, in peace.
To the President, with so many burdens to bear, I wish you well in your mission and the honorable service you give to our nation. Go in peace and return to your family and friends in Washington and Chicago in peace."
You can actually do that in New York and no one will bother you. The city does have its advantages.