Monday, October 15, 2012

Screening The Second Meeting


Everyone pulling together to get everything ready for tonight’s screening. My heart stops when I see Rachel’s stuff spread out over a bank of pews. But my crew assures me that this, too, will be taken care of. 

At 12:30, I go out on the steps as Col. Dale Zelko and family arrive in a van from New Jersey. He drops off his family and I direct him to a parking garage. He’s late coming back because he gets into a conversation  with a Kosovar Albanian Muslim and an Israeli who are working at the garage. That’s the way  it’s supposed to be, he says, we’re supposed to live together as people, as friends....  Dale’s children and Zelko’s children are happy to see each other and anxious to play so soon they are off. 

Later,Dale will call me from the John Lennon Imagine memorial in Central Park and invite me to join them for pizza near the church. When I get there, several other contingents of his family have arrived from Jersey. Well, if no one else shows, I think, at least we’ll have these 20...                                  

Dale is a forthright, straight forward, direct man. What you see is what you get. Over lunch, he talks about his 21 missions (interesting word) to Baghdad during Gulf War 1. How up until the last minute was praying that someone would stop it, reach a compromise, call off the mission. But that never happened. No one realizes, he says, it is we military people more than anyone who don’t want wars to happen. We know what they do. It’s insanity. We know... He also speaks of a number of interventions that allowed him to survive a situation where that prospect was highly unlikely. And that the most difficult question he was ever asked was from a 5th grade  class. Did you ever kill anyone? And he’s still not sure how to answer that one..

Zeljko and I head back for the tech rehearsal,then I head home to change. My son Nate and Jamie’s son Max will be working the side 86th Street VIP door as security. 

When I get back, a steady stream of people are coming in. This is good. As 7PM nears, the church is nearly full. The Consul General Hon. Mirjana Zivkovic has arrived along with other Consulate staff. People from the Serbian club in Queens. And from the Serbian Orthodox Church. Old peace activists. Rick and Kitty from Stony Point and the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. Church members. People Zeljko interviewed. Including RL in a 3 piece suit. (And appropriate hat) Editor of a New York Serbian newspaper. It’s a good crowd. The Serbian flag hangs from our balcony beside the American flag. I begin to relax.

I see the movie for the first time. The story of how these two antagonists met and became friends. How each in there own way rejected glorification of their individual stories. Col. Zoltan Dani declining offers of millions of dollars to teach others how to  shoot down American stealth bombers, F117’s. And Col. Dale Zelko’s declining the opportunity to become a poster boy for the US military. What each wanted in the end was their common humanity, their families. They recognized their shared desires when they met. And became friends. 

I am beginning to understand the beauty of Zeljko’s art. He celebrates, lifts up, the simple, the common. He avoids the dramatic sensationalist narrative in favor of images of simple humanity and in that finds beauty. In Dani’s bakery. A fighter pilot who is always breaking into song. A friendship quilt. A wife who tears up remembering how long it took her husband to truly return to himself after he arrived back home. (And how some never do..) A little boy irrepressibly jumping up and down with joy on his father’s return. An impromptu baseball game. A stealth bomber turned into a cake with a icing dot where the shot hit...all of this. He shows us. And just lets it be. 

Dale and Zeljko answer questions. And the questions keep coming. Finally, as could be expected, a woman takes after Dale for bombing innocent women and children. I begin to move over that way, behind her. Dale stays cool. Even tempered. Answers her question seriously, despite it’s morally superior accusing tone. And following the formal close of the evening, he will talk even more with her. I admire his level headedness. And we’re all glad the subject was opened up.

Together behind the Serbian flag
Dale’s  son Keegan finishes the night with a careful, precise playing of a traditional Serbian folksong on his violin. We all stand behind the Serbian flag for a photo op and go back to the chapel for a reception, but conversations continue. 

So many random connections, from Dale’s Slovenian ancestry to Zoltan’s son finding Dale online ultimately leading to the friendship that has developed between Zeljko and I. Or maybe not random....

Even though we continue to struggle financially, sometimes barely breathing, every time we have a night like this I am thankful that we came back , reopened the doors, made one more event that never wold have happened otherwise possible. We are still here.

Dale, Bob and Zeljko

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