Today a terrible thing happened in my home town. A young man so full of cruelty, anger, and evil that he felt he was at liberty to kill as he wished murdered a number of my neighbors–my friends–at a parade that I have attended dozens of times on July Fourth, a day when everyone in this country is happy and proud to be Americans. Seven dead, dozens wounded.
Year after year the Fourth of July parade in Highland Park was a beautiful event that was attended by people from all walks of life and all ages who live here in Highland Park, Illinois. Barack Obama walked in our parade one year when he was a U.S. Senator. The bands were always loud and joyful, the dancers graceful. Dignitaries in the cars and on the floats tossed pieces of candy to little children who bubbled over with excitement as only carefree children can.
Highland Park is not a big place at all. It is an idyllic little Midwestern American city of about thirty thousand–clean and peaceful, and until the Fourth, safe. Clustered together at its center are a railroad station, City Hall, public library, and on the library lawn a long chromium sculpture no one understands. It is a community that values the arts: more writers live here than in any other community between Chicago to the south and Milwaukee to the north. Double screen writing Academy Award winner William Goldman was from Highland Park. Actor/movie director Orson Welles lived here in his adolescence and sat on his lawn reading Shakespeare; Frank Baum would take the train up from Oak Park to meet with his Oz books illustrator who lived here; the high school theatre program is renowned. Also, Michael Jordan lived here when he was leading the Chicago Bulls to championships. I’d see him at the Post Office waiting in line just like everyone else. There is no standing on ceremony in Highland Park.
My wife and I moved here forty-something years ago to escape crime and other problems big cities have and were happy here from day one. We raised four children here. The schools are good, the teachers caring. My two daughters were on the high school gymnastics team. My two sons were in the school’s theatre program, my older son in a production that won a state championship. He still remembers it with special pleasure because a girl asked him for his autograph.
To the east, along Lake Michigan, the homes of Highland Park are very grand, elegant, and old. The streets are lined with magnificent trees through which on summer mornings such as today gentle breezes blow as resident Robins, Sparrows, Blue jays, and Cardinals sing gaily. In its way it is an innocent place–like a child–with very little crime, friendly people who say hello, how are you on the street and treat each other with respect, people who obey laws and pay attention to ethics and morality and the Golden Rule. It doesn’t belong on the news. It is out of place there. It shouldn’t be the center of the nation’s–the world’s–attention. It should be as it always has been–“a nice place right off U.S. 41” that is sublime because nothing much ever happens there.
I went outside for a few minutes and began to wonder what will happen to our parade now .Seven dead, dozens wounded. Will there ever be another parade on the Fourth? Or must we find solace in the drum rolls that exist now only in our memories, and the baton twirlers that are there too, the bright July suns, gleeful children, proud parents and grandparents all together on the one day we once upon a time could rely on to make us all happy?
© 2022 David J. Rogers
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