Two weeks after the election, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I emerged from the Public Market House to find several workmen gathered on the 40-foot spruce tree that had been moved to Monument Square the previous week to serve as the city’s Christmas tree.

Two-thirds of the way up, one man leaned cautiously from the bucket of a city truck, coaxing a string of lights from the loop hanging off his arm into the spruce’s thickly layered branches. Similarly festooned, his colleagues below were similarly engaged.

It was late morning. No holiday music played; the small bulbs along the wires were unlit and barely visible against the spruce’s dark bulk. The tree lighting would take place the day after Thanksgiving, part of a celebration that would also include free horse-drawn wagon rides, eggnog, music, blocked-off streets and, depending on weather, potentially thousands of onlookers.

But now traffic moved steadily around the square. The work crew conferred among themselves. Office workers, shoppers and street people walked by with barely a look.

My glance drifted to a group of women clustered near the tree but closer to the Victory statue. Clad in full-length black burkas, they were talking eagerly together as men at the northeast corner of the square unfurled red and yellow banners with what looked like Arabic writing.

Cutting across the square back to my apartment, curiosity propelled me toward the women, who were gracious and friendly at my approach but spoke no English. One of them waved me toward another group I hadn’t noticed, nearer Congress Street. There, the women were younger but also burka-clad, and also in a state of quiet animation as they arranged rows of long-stemmed roses on a table.

A tall, thin young woman with huge glasses and a soft voice explained that the group was preparing to take part in a march for peace called Arbaeen, which commemorates the 680 A.D. slaying of Hussain ibn Ali, the grandson of the prophet Muhammad, at Karbala in what is now Iraq. Millions of people all over the world take part in this march every November, she said, making it the world’s largest peace march. She gave me an informational sheet and a rose.

I thanked her, wished the marchers well, and went on my way. But I wondered whether they felt more apprehensive about their march this year, more vulnerable, whether among passers-by, or the city employees next to them, there were any who resented their presence, and whether these questions simply reflected my own post-election distrust and uneasiness.

I had no answers. The recent election rhetoric was ugly indeed, and the history of the two centuries-old religions behind the rituals unfolding in the square that morning was conflicted and often bloody. Nevertheless, as I left the square, the dual preparations quietly continued behind me, essentially unnoticed except for those participating, a mere first-down apart.

Peace on earth, good will to all of us. May the ordinariness continue.


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