That Time I Considered Pulling a Jesus-in-the-Temple in Central Park

by - October 30, 2018

As we planned our 20th Anniversary road trip to New York City I knew one thing for sure: it was incredibly important to me that we take time to visit Strawberry Fields in Central Park, to take a moment at the 'Imagine' mosaic, a beautiful tribute placed in honour of John Lennon.

Strawberry Fields was a revitalization project commissioned by Yoko Ono after John's tragic death. The area is gorgeous, a designated 'quiet zone' with huge trees, benches, and the mosaic. Situated in the park across the street from The Dakota, the apartment where John and Yoko made their home, and the location of his shooting, I had no doubt I would feel a bit emotional standing on such hallowed ground.

John Lennon is a person of great import in my life. Though I was but a baby when Mark David Chapman gunned John down in the archway of his apartment building, I feel like a bit of his spirit has been kept alive in my adoration of him. There are people across history who have a way of getting under your skin and staying there. We all have them, those larger-than-life glowing beacons who inform our journey with or without our permission. That is who John is for me. From his message of peace to his brilliant song-writing talent to the obvious adoration of his wife (despite what the Beatle-loving public thought about it), I embraced all of him. And though he made mistakes, he could do no real wrong in my eyes.

The air was crisp, though the sun reached beyond the clouds just enough to make us wonder if our heavy jackets were a little too much. Fallen leaves crunched beneath our feet and our calves ached as we climbed the rolling paths of Central Park. We had already seen some of the iconic bridges. We'd been to the carousel (very anti-climactic!). We walked the Promenade and visited the Bethesda Fountain (though the water had already been drained in anticipation of winter). We ate a hotdog from a cart and marvelled that people would even consider paying a rickshaw driver $5.99 A MINUTE for a ride around the park. We laughed when we heard a group of ladies burst into the Friends theme song while they sat around the edge of the fountain rumoured to have inspired the one used in the opening credits of the show.

And then we came to Strawberry Fields.

The way before us opened to reveal a small clearing, in the centre of which lay the circular mosaic. Imagine. People crowded around it, pushing their way through for photos, sitting in the centre and giving the peace sign for whoever was nice enough to snap a picture for them, grinning ear to ear, laughing, playing, having a good time. A man and his guitar hollered Beatle lyrics from a south facing bench. Vendors stood at folding tables, selling Lennon pins and Imagine postcards. I squeezed through the crowd and timed a photo in the brief millisecond when there was no one sitting there because it meant something to me to mark that I had been there.

But inside I was seething with rage.

All I wanted was an honest moment with my grief. Instead, these holligans had turned this sacred space into a marketplace of tourism. I felt disrespected. I felt like John was being disrespected. I wanted to stand up on a bench and scream at them. "DON'T YOU EVEN CARE THAT THIS IS WHERE HIS ASHES WERE SCATTERED??!" I wanted to knock over tables and wield a whip like Jesus did when he cleared the temple.

We didn't stay long because being there didn't mean what I wanted it to mean. We took the western path and walked to The Dakota where I stood in the spot Mark 'Demon' Chapman shot John. I wanted to find some kind of ongoing tribute there. There was nothing. I wanted to be able to light a candle in his memory. I also wanted to set a copy of The Catcher in the Rye on fire right there in the archway of the apartment building—not because Holden Caufield is to blame, or that J.D. Salinger ever knew his book would play a role in one of the most (personally) devastating assassinations in history, (and truth be told, I actually really liked the book)—but because I thought the gesture would properly enact the pain I was feeling in my gut.

We reentered the park and I swallowed the lump of my emotions as we passed the mosaic again—a whole new crowd of people there who could never love him like I love him—on our way to explore The Ramble. Hot fire burned behind my eyes and I blinked hard against it as I paused on the path to take a picture of the Strawberry Fields plaque.

I reflected as we continued to walk. And walk. And walk. (We got a little bit lost.) I felt righteous in my anger, but I also felt annoyed that it was casting a shadow over what should have been a perfectly enjoyable adventure with the guy I married twenty years ago (who just happens to look like John Lennon—coincidence? No! I knew exactly what I was doing!).

John was a harbinger of peace. He believed in humanity, that we were better than war, that love is love and conquers all, and that everyone—even the man who meets you outside your apartment for an autograph, only to return hours later to murder you—deserves attention. If John visited the memorial of Lewis Carroll, one of his favourite writers, how would he react if people were behaving as I witnessed the tourists behaving at his memorial?

I could hear his voice, whispering to me through the Central Park trees, "Peace sister. Don't waste your time worrying about silly things. Relax. Soak in the beauty. Life is very short, and there’s no time for fussing and fighting."

I thought of the glowing woman in the denim jacket who sat on the mosaic and gave two peace signs to her husband as he took her picture, joy radiating from her face, thrilled to be in the moment, and I had a realization. Different people mean different things to different people. To me, John is a three-dimensional being to whom I feel very closely connected in a very real way. He has a piece (a peace!) of my heart and in this place of remembrance, I felt rich grief. But to others, he was a mythical pop star and they like his music because it made them happy. And it still makes them happy. And that manifests itself in goofy grins and peace symbols in Central Park.

And I need to be okay with that. That's what John would want from me if I am to truly honour his memory.

But the vendors and annoying man with the guitar? Well!

I am thankful I didn't go full Jesus on them—though the YouTube fame that would surely come out of it might have been fun. It wouldn't have accomplished anything. In fact, it would have only added to the hubbub I was so offended by in the first place. I do wonder if Jesus regretted his outburst in the temple. Righteous anger has its place, but seriously, some behaviour is just embarrassing, and after all, when it comes down to it, all I need to worry about is whether I'm doing a good job of giving peace a chance.

At the end of the day, I'm glad for the experience, and thankful that it provided an opportunity for John to teach me another lesson about living life well. I'll never be able to forgive those jerks selling his face for profit—right there in the shadow of the building that cast a shadow on him as his life drained away on the sidewalk—but I'm happy to know I rose above it. Sure, it took me a little while, but I got there and that's got to be worth something.

You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join me, and the world will live as one. 

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  1. I loved the insights, the perceptions, the feelings you shared in this piece! So many people, so many interpretations. It would have been fun to watch you on YouTube😜


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