Monday, November 11, 2013

Echoes...and a Lesson about Patriotism on Veteran's Day

       During our Veteran's Day assembly this morning the most beautiful thing occurred: the Mixed Chorus sang the National Anthem--which was beautiful indeed--and the Veterans who were in attendance started singing with them.

       The men and women of the Armed Forces sang.  Many were in their uniforms from when they served or are still serving. Some were bent over with age, but still standing as proudly as they could, arthritic hands folded gently over their hearts.  Still others held their caps over their hearts in slightly shaky hands.  Others saluted as smartly as they could, and somehow, despite their ages or infirmities, held that salute without trembling until the very end of the song.

      Their voices, though, lifted in tribute to the nation they'd served with pride, were strong and true.  Even in "the rocket's red glare" part, where young voices sometimes have problems reaching those higher notes, these Veterans sang with zeal.  It was unexpected, as they weren't supposed to be singing along.  The choir was doing a special number honoring them.  But still, they sang.

      And then it happened.  The beautiful thing.  The choir, for dynamic effect, had built pauses into the accapella song near the end; however, the Veterans, not knowing this, sang the final phrases out boldly into the stillness as a rich counterpoint to the choir's harmonies, causing an echo when the choir sang the same words just seconds later.
       "For the Land of the Free..... and the Home of the Brave...."
                     "For the Land of the Free".... and the Home of the Brave...."

       The older voices of the Veterans, grave with emotion and dignity and age, echoed by the young voices of the choir, filled with hope and vigor and youth, created an epiphany that filled my eyes with tears.  Here was the proper order of things--the elders showing the youth how to be patriotic, with gusto and full voice.

      So, thank you, Veterans, for all you have done for us in the past, and for what you are still doing for us today.  You teach us how to be proud to be Americans in this land of the free and home of the brave.  Our lesson for today: sing out strong and proud with our hearts united, and let those who come behind us echo the passion and purpose that makes this nation great.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Civic Duty

      I looked around the courtroom today at this slice of America and realized that I was going to miss these people.  It's strange to think that way since we were still mostly strangers, even though we'd been meeting once a month for a year and a half.  We covered a wide swath of ages, careers, and life experience.  We ranged in age from a college co-ed to a man in his seventies.  Our job titles covered farmer, social worker, welder, teacher, salesman, HR manager, EMT, government worker, and everything in between.  The education levels fluctuated from high school graduate to master's degree.  We were a true American melting pot of people all involved in the Constitutional ritual/requirement of jury duty.
      Juries all over this nation are part of the process of hearing evidence and deciding whether it is enough to indict.  Now it was our turn.  We hadn't the foggiest idea what we'd gotten into, but then again, it wasn't something we had chosen.  Of the seventy or so people gathered together, we were the ones who made the cut.  We told the court who we were, what we did, and explained what, if any, impediments we may have to serving. The old schoolyard pick was not in evidence because we were all on the team just by being law-abiding citizens. We had been, by luck of the draw, brought here, and then, based on qualities unknown to us, we were selected.  We settled into our chairs, opened the binders they gave us delineating our roles, and went to work.  The process of being a check to someone's balance was about to begin.
      I have to be honest here and say that I was was not ready for that whole check and balance thing.  It's one thing to enjoy watching TV cop shows like "Criminal Minds" and "NCIS" or even "Law and Order: SVU."  It's a completely different thing to find out that fiction mirrors reality.  The cases that came before us were hard.  They showed the underbelly of the wonderful area in which we lived.  We learned that there are people who want to take the easy way or the quick way or the horrific way to get what they want.  Drugs.  Murder.  Child Porn.  Bank robbery.  I know I live in my own little world; I am aware that I tend to look at the world through very rose-colored glasses.  After all, I live in a part of the world I had always considered to be relatively crime-free.  We're smack dab in the middle of the Bible Belt.  Springfield, MO is a growing city, but it is still far from being a huge city with a huge city's crime, right?
      Innocence lost, but experience and wisdom gained.
      Despite what we learned about the horrible things people did to each other in their attempt to break laws, the process was enlightening.  Sure, hearing about the dark side of human nature often left us weary and disheartened.  However, there was a bright side of this experience, too.  We got to know each other, beyond our names and job titles.  We went to lunch with each other.  We rejoiced with each other at a child's graduation or a wedding.  We commiserated when a family member passed.  We sent get well cards after one of us had surgery.  We learned that there were hard-working officers of the court, honorable people in various agencies, and honorable people who wanted justice done.
      Today what I saw on their faces was completely different from the looks on these faces eighteen months ago.  Apprehension, anxiety, and resignation were our expressions then.  Today we were proud, excited, and sad.  We'd been counting down till this date, looking forward to having completed our service; but now that it was finally here, we all admitted we'd do it all over again.  The time we'd spent together in that room had bonded us in a strange way; we might never see each other again, but it felt as if we were long-lost cousins who, though we hadn't wanted to go to the family reunion, now didn't really want to leave.  And it was exactly like that.  It was a family in the larger sense.  We're all Americans.