Special To The Mirror
One recent Thursday evening, I went to the free weekly concert on the Santa Monica Pier to see and hear the famous Chilean music group Inti-Illimani playing their flutes, conga drums, guitars, mandolins, fiddles and a variety of Andean instruments of the antara, rondador and ocarina families. What were those exotic stringed instruments? Charango? Hualaycho? Charanguita? Ronroco? And those seldom seen percussive instruments? Bombo? Wankara? Tinya?
With their wonderful, evocative harmonies, Inti-Illimani sang haunting, rhythmic Spanish-language songs about subjects ranging from love to nature to political resistance and war. They are revered in Chile and known by popular musical artists worldwide. They recently appeared as the featured performers at the inauguration of Chile’s first female president, Michelle Bachelet. It was a great pleasure to see them live, let alone for free.
As I sipped my watery American beer (the only option on the menu) and listened to their music on the outdoor concession stand patio on the Pier, I could see the Andes, feel the hoof beats of gauchos’ horses on the Argentine pampas and hear the winds of both historical tradition and modernist change whistling through their beautiful flutes.
While I was caught up in my idealized Andean reverie, a portly homeless woman who smelled of urine approached me at my table, where I was eating buttered corn on the cob and washing it down with my cheap beer. She was wearing a tattered rag of a dress and beat-up tennis shoes. She had a stunningly youthful and quite pretty face, adorned with a beatific smile. Let me arbitrarily call her Frances.
Frances asked if I could spare some loose change. I said no, and rather abruptly, thinking my tone would scare her off, and hoping to keep my last few dollars in cash for another snack or beer.
She asked simply, “Why not?”
I had no answer for my wretched stinginess and emptied my pockets of several dollars into her soiled hands. Frances returned a few moments later, smiling her pretty smile, looking like one of the daft hippie earth children of my college years. She wanted to know if I had more change. We embraced, and I gave her my last few dollars. As I was leaving that night, I saw Frances rummaging through a trashcan on the Pier.
Frances may be an abject failure in economic terms, she may need medical care, but she is a spectacular success as a human being. I love this woman for her innocent insistence that in a world that often seems deranged by violence, greed, vanity, fear, lies and outright hate, we should expect basic decency and compassion from one another.
Is that too much to ask of ourselves? Of our elected leaders? Of our news media? Imagine Frances’ simple question applied to current world events.
-Can we, as a starting point, stop referring to the U.S.A. as “America” and broaden our vision to encompass all 35 nations of the Americas, including Chile? Why not?
-Can we make rational political conversation possible again by ratcheting down the lurid fear-based sensationalism being pedaled by our highest elected leaders and amplified by our news media? Why not?
-Can we admit that we are as likely to be killed by shark attacks as terrorist attacks, that U.S. citizens are more likely to die from bathtub drowning, smoking, car accidents or heart disease than at the hands of “Islamic Fascists”? Why not?
-Can we make military action a last option and try direct talks with Iran, as Sen. Chuck Hagel, (R-Neb.), former Sec. of State Madeleine Albright and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan have suggested? Why not?
-Can we apply the same demands for nuclear inspections that we propose for Iran on nuclear-armed Israel (200 warheads), India (115 warheads) and Pakistan (90 warheads), none of whom have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty nor agreed to IAEA inspections as Iran (0 warheads) has? Why not?
-Can we report the CIA and IAEA estimate that Iran is at least five years, more likely 10 to 15 years, away from having a nuclear weapon and has been seeking direct talks with the U.S. for the past six years? Why not?
-Can we remove from office our highest elected officials, including the President, if they consciously lie us into a war of choice and willfully imperil us with wider global conflagration in Iran, Syria and Lebanon? Why not?
The possibilities are endless. Thank you, Frances. May God bless you.