I was called to a summit, representing the United States of Me in talks regarding Thanksgiving 2009. I am not a very effective delegate, but unfortunately the people can’t find anyone else to do the job. The only smart move I made was to stop for a pastry and a coffee on the way.
Because I have the metabolism of a hummingbird, my mother taught me never to attend meetings without food. I had to teach myself to put on the armor of coffee. It’s just not worth the risk to enter dangerous territory uncaffeinated.
Although I would be caffeinated and fed, I was completely out of ideas approaching the summit. The only thing I was sure of was that I liked wearing my new pink shoes and black gloves with buttons. It was chilly and the trees were naked and the light is so strange this time of year: the bent morning sun looks like evening to me.
I thought about some arguments that would really zing, and then I imagined some postures I could take that would give me the sheen of complete enlightenment (always a winning strategy). I parked my car in the street and bumbled around the building with my coat hanging open. There was a woman right inside the door, but she said, “Oh, I’m not in line. Go ahead.” And then I was standing right behind a soldier.
A guy in fatigues and combat boots, at least. My whole family is fine, many of us would be together for the holiday, and my job does not include any expectation of gunfire or attack, no worry about being wounded or killed or lost. So I felt like an ass, getting all worked up about the minor politics of my Thanksgiving and who ought to do what and how.
We waited. Milk steamed, smoothies blended, newspapers whisper-turned.
I believe in peace, theoretically. I just have a hard time keeping peace inside my own head, or between me and people I love with abandon. I believe in peace, and settlements. Achieving peace requires a lot of fighting. I had a soldier in my head who had been employed a great deal lately, running defense and hiding and setting up booby traps and marching on the offensive. I wasn’t sure I had been deploying him wisely.
President Obama has been trying to figure out what to do about Afghanistan. I am so pleased that he took his time. We recently witnessed the consequences of rushing into a war recklessly (or maybe we witnessed a carefully planned thing dressed up in the costume of carelessness– whichever). I am happy to see that, even if his decision doesn’t pan out, he has at least taken the time to think it through. You could say a lot of nasty things about the man, but thoughtlessness doesn’t seem to be one of his vices.
The soldier ahead of me ordered, and I then I wondered if I should thank him, or offer to buy his coffee or something, but then, wouldn’t that be awkward? Maybe he’d feel weird having a measly civilian woman buy him coffee. Or maybe he would feel weird about being thanked– I have had a guy just back from Iraq tell me he thought I was braver– he’d rather return to a war zone than teach high school. Was his service more thank-worthy than mine, or the barista’s? Or maybe he’s an extra for a commercial they’re filming around the corner, and not a soldier at all.
My brain whipped itself into knots, and he ordered two coffees to go, and took them, and then it was my turn to order, and I had no idea what I wanted.
I drove on, to the summit. Sat on the couch. Drank my coffee. I didn’t give up any territory. I got huffy. Said ridiculous things. Stood up. Sat back down. Sometimes listened.
Eventually, the Thanksgiving issues receded, relatively unresolved, and I agreed to have lunch. Having lunch is always an important negotiating tactic, a clever strategic move in a long conflict, regardless of your metabolism, and especially if the offer includes chips and salsa.