2014 Iowa – Day 8 – Kalona: The pacifists and baseball

Monday May 26, 2014

Memorial Day. I avoid celebrations of this holiday as best I can. While I like the idea of honouring the men and women whom have served their country in war, I do not feel that is what this holiday is about anymore in America. I feel like it has been hijacked by a jingoistic and uncritical patriotism. That really bothers me. My grandfather, a World War II vet whom survived the beaches of Normandy and came home with four Bronze Stars, taught me not to be a flag-waver and to critically question US foreign policy and involvement in war. It should truly only ever be a last resort, he told me. So now, when I hear that the poor soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are ‘fighting for my freedoms’, I shudder. They may be fighting for something like oil interests and political face, but ‘freedom’ may be stretching it a bit. But in America, it’s best to just shut up about such views and avoid the flag-wavers on days like today.

What better place to wait out the holiday traffic and avoid the parades and chest-beating than to hang out with pacifists? No parades, no gun salutes, no ceremonies here. The “English” (what the Amish call the non-Amish) must head to other towns to take part. The Amish are such staunch pacifists they do not use buttons on their clothing because they associate them with the military.

The Amish may be pacifists, but they are also very good at baseball. A large group of them has concluded lunch and a religious study session in a picnic shelter and gone to play ball with a young ‘English’ father pitching practice balls to his six-year-old son. The Amish women line the grass, sitting cross-legged in their long dresses, between home plate and first base. They watch their young toddlers as they tumble about inspecting the grass and infield dirt. The men take positions at the bases and in the batting line-up with the six-year-old. No one has gloves, but the Amish men seem to have no trouble improvising and catching fly balls with their bare hands. Everyone gets a turn in this friendly, cross-cultural game of ball. Oh America, if only this comradeship and friendliness could be extended from this field. I wish this is what we were celebrating, instead of all that chest-beating xenophobia.

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The old bungalows and two-story houses, the lush green trees, the grid streets, and the flags out front give Kalona a classic, small-town America feel.

After the game concludes, I head out for a walk. How many ways can you spend your day that doesn’t involve sitting? I amble along through the streets, passing in and out of the shade of the trees. This is small-town America in the Midwest, and there is a sense of security in the grid streets, two-story houses with wrap-around porches, kids mowing lawns and the well-kept flower displays. It is Norman Rockwell Americana still surviving in some form. All of the vegetation gives me the feeling that everything will be okay, that life is not a struggle. The profusion of flowers in every yard, the neatly mown grass, the tall, lush trees with thick shade, the humidity, the smell of locust and honeysuckle in bloom – it all just feels so easy to be alive. So much of the vegetation is so scraggly in the part of Australia where I live, like it is just hanging in there trying to survive yet another drought. But here the vegetation seems so relaxed and vibrant, as if its biggest struggle is deciding how deep to sink a root or whether it should pop out a new flower today or wait until tomorrow. I would never choose to live again in a place with this much humidity and rainfall, but wow, could you imagine how easy it would be to grow a bountiful vegetable garden?!

When I take a shower later in the evening and inspect the skin on my bum, I’m pleased. It seems to be healing really well. There is only one small section of the injured skin, right at the end, that is still a bit raw. I feel confident that we’ll be able to ride without pain tomorrow and that all will be well soon. I’m ready to roll!!

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