Nueva York Report: 2003 St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Loving Thy Neighbor
by Barbara Marion Horn, M.A.
Anybody turn on this year’s parade? New York City’s 242nd -older than our own beloved country? I was stunned too. Did you watch? Did you spot Iona College? Yours truly marched right behind their banner, proudly displaying the Iona sash across my entirely green self.
How did I get to strut up 5th Avenue on the most glorious of days, all decked out in shades of emerald, feeling more than on top of the world? It was Pete Ballo, my boss at Project NYCope, who offered me the chance. NYCope is Project Liberty’s wing dedicated to helping NYC employees, residents and business owners of Lower Manhattan with the lingering psychological impact of the September 11th, 2001 attacks. Ballo marches each year with his alma mater, Iona College. One wintry February morning, completely out of the blue he asks: “Hey Barbara want to march in the St. Patty’s Day parade?” This boss and I have not always seen eye to eye. As a matter of fact, we went through a downright terrible time for quite a while. I was flabbergasted when he extended this invite. Only for a split second was I speechless. Then I roared in response: “You betcha Pete; ABSOLUTELY. If there is one place I belong in this world, it’s in that parade. God bless you forever for asking me.” Can you imagine how I felt when, a mere seven days to the event itself, and after broadcasting to everyone I know and then some that I would be a marching, Pete tells me: “I don’t think I’m going to march.” “Pete, for God’s sake, what am I to do? I have to march; this isn’t an option for me,” I blurted out. (Who cared why he wasn’t marching –I needed to make sure I was!) “Barbara, go over to the Iona lineup and join in. If anyone asks, say you’re waiting for me.” I followed his instructions. I showed up at 5th Avenue and 45th Street at 12:30 p.m. There was the Iona clan. The dispenser of the sashes looked me over from head (adorned with green shamrock earrings -only uniform hats are permitted) to toe (my green shamrock stockings seemed to meet with her approval). Our exchange was brief and to the point. “Do you need a sash?” “Yes.” That was my ticket. I waited. In one transformative moment I went from being penned in on a side street to waving and throwing kisses and smiles to throngs of people cheering me on as I lifted my feet to the beat of Iona’s bagpipers. This local college’s successful basketball team assured all her marchers of the love and affection of the crowd; their cheers, hoots and hollers followed us up Fifth Avenue. For 40 blocks I had complete strangers shouting and waving to me, holding up their children for my nod and wave back. (Is this what politicians thrive on?) I basked in it all. The parade marshals reviewing stand was at 65th Street. To my amazement, a visiting friend from Ireland was in the stand, jumping up and down, right alongside the marshals in their tuxes. In her beautiful Aran Islands accent she shouted at the top of her lungs: “Barbara! Barbara, HELLO! YOU LOOK GRAND!” The marshals gave one glance in the direction of my dear friend Ainne; no other cue was needed. They began eagerly waving their black top hats at this fraudulent, shameless, Iona-sashed marcher. Really, it was wild. I was unprepared for what happened next. One block beyond the grandstand we passed an imposing concrete structure. Carved into the top of this House of Worship, wrapping themselves around the corner were these words: LOVE THY NEIGHBOR AS THYSELF. All along I had been painfully, albeit quietly, aware that President Bush would be coming on TV this very evening. He would be pronouncing the United States’ final ultimatum to Saddam Hussein. Everyone knew. It seemed we were all in silent agreement to not speak of such things on this holiday. Occasions for celebration are far too scant in the Big Apple; we cherish every one that comes our way. We all needed a few more hours of happiness. But when I saw the temple inscription my filter fell. I could not contain myself. Did anyone else see what I was seeing? I looked around at my fellow Ionans. While pointing I called out what was written:
“LOVE THY NEIGHBOR AS THYSELF; LOVE THY NEIGHBOR AS THYSELF.”
No one said a thing. A few looked at me rather blankly then returned to the roaring crowds. Continuing to point, I read the words out loud again: “LOVE THY NEIGHBOR AS THYSELF; LOVE THY NEIGHBOR AS THYSELF.”
More vacant stares in my direction, then the focus returned to the fans. Suddenly, an eerie thought overwhelmed me. Here was this parade, this joyous celebration of a saint, of a nation. Flags waving, people cheering, children playing. Happiness abounded. Not so far behind the scenes, a war was in the making. Death and destruction, closing in on us, on the people of Iraq. Is this an inkling of what Palm Sunday might have been like? The masses welcomed Christ with open arms. A somber Jesus knowing that behind the scenes death and destruction loomed. The similarities could not escape me. I did return to the joy. Would anyone have guessed there had been an interruption? When we reached the end, I turned in my sash to calls of: “See you next year!” I was on my own again.