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A Dance of Death
Published on Wednesday, July 26, 2006 by CommonDreams.org
A Dance of Death
by Joyce Marcel
 

"Want a little warm-up?" asks the waitress as she splashes more coffee into my cup. "Need more milk?"

We're sitting in front of huge plates of eggs, bacon, home fries, and toast, my mother and I, in a diner in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. It's our annual immersion in the New York City Ballet - 11 ballets in three days - and we're still in a state of bedazzlement and wonder.

The diner is packed, maybe because there's a downpour outside. Waitresses and busgirls hustle by us, going in all directions, while people crowd into booths and jam themselves around large tables.

Everyone is eating large amounts of food off larger plates. Massive hamburgers, piles of fries, stacks of pancakes with ice cream scoops of butter melting on them, bacon and sausages piled on big fluffy omelets, all the coffee we can drink, individual servings of cream, toothpicks that come in their own plastic wrappers.

In the background, on a large television screen, terrified people are fleeing Lebanon.

Looking around, I see slender women with long nails, fat women with lost necks, big-bellied men in polo shirts, older men in bonding groups, and lots of extended families.

It's hard not to wonder what these well-fed Americans think about this newest war. Do they think about it at all? Do they know? Do they care?

Bountiful America, land of comfort and plenty. A place where living is high and credit is easy.

A place where most people have cars and not even $3 a gallon gas can stop mother and I from traveling to another state to enjoy a ballet company in which gifted men and women live their lives devoted to the ancient art of making beauty out of movement.

Bountiful America, where entertainment is a God-given right.

Bountiful America, where we are not called upon to make sacrifices for our wars, but are called upon to shop, instead.

Bountiful America, where no one has ever cowered from a bomb.

My mother talks about a ballet we saw the night before, "Vienna Waltzes" choreographed by George Balanchine in 1977 to a series of waltzes by Franz Lehar and the Strausses. Five waltzes, played by a live orchestra, and elegant couples in gowns, jewels and formal wear - from several eras - waltzing romantically and gracefully in lush forests, gardens and ballrooms.

Mom is puzzled, she says, because she has seen this ballet many times, and it is not as she remembers it. It seems she is confusing it with a similar ballroom ballet by Balanchine, La Valse. In that one, Death crashes the ball and carries off one of the guests.

To both of us, it seems an appropriate metaphor for the times.

It has been a splendid series of balls, hasn't it? We have dressed in our finest - to suit our individual eras and tastes - and whirled around the world, taking gold from here, diamonds from there, perfume and Champagne from France, oil from everywhere.

We have invaded countries at will, claiming to promote democracy but in reality pushing a particularly virulent form of unfettered American capitalism.

We have taken over whole countries to suit our needs - Panama when we needed a canal, Central America and Hawaii for fruit, Iraq for the possibility of controlling its oil.

We have become the richest nation on earth, and as a corollary, the fattest. We have become lazy, greedy, selfish and brutal. We have stopped caring about - or even acknowledging - our fellow human beings around the world.

News of this outer world is crammed into 22 minutes on television in the evening, or ever-changing headlines on the Internet. We barely turn around to see people running from bombs. We can't hear their screams over the clatter of our dishes.

Untold millions are dying from AIDS and it barely scratches the surface of our happy, bountiful world. Polar bears are drowning and the planet is choking on our fumes. Darfur is dying of starvation while butter melts on our pancakes. The Israelis are bombing the Lebanese while we enjoy our eggs. Iraq has fallen into civil war for no good reason except that our president likes to play at being a man.

With our toothpicks individually wrapped in plastic, we swirl around the dance floor, hardly noticing that Death has crashed our ball, or that it is dancing with us all.

Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist from southern Vermont. A collection of her columns, "A Thousand Words or Less," is available through joycemarcel.com. Email to: joycemarcel@yahoo.com.

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