My America

keys-poem-copy1For the past three years, on the night of the 4th of July, I have sung the old traditional songs of our country to our daughter before bed.

And every time, I have cried.

I don’t know why I cry.  I don’t know if it’s just because they’re pretty and poetic.  Or because by that time in the day I’m just really tired.

Or if it’s because I cannot even begin to fathom the weight of some of those words written so many yesterdays ago.  I can’t imagine myself far enough back to know what it was like to be in their shoes.  To see the bombs and bayonets and the cities laid waste.  To step over that peak and see the virgin expanse of wilderness before me.  To fight with such passion and conviction for a cause that, at the time must have seemed so frightening and uncertain.

Or perhaps it’s because for the first time in my life, I am deeply invested in tomorrow.  I am sending a little one forth into an unknown and uncertain future.  Will this flag still represent hope and freedom when she is my age?  Will these songs still be sung by schoolchildren when her children go to school?  Will she cry every fourth of July when the cymbal strikes and she stands up beneath a sky bursting with fire and light?  Will there still be heroes to welcome home and will there still be a home to welcome them home to?

I’m not spouting political views here.  I’m simply saying we just don’t know.  What beauty is yet to come for our country?  What terror?  What pain?  What victories?  What divisions?  What decisions?

I know my America is different from my parents’.  And very different from the America of my grandparents.  And light years from their parents before them or the generations before that.  Not necessarily better.  Not necessarily worse.  But I guess I wonder what America our little girl will grown up in?  Will she catch her breath at the sight of that flag being unfurled in the gleaming sun?  Will she fight back tears when she sits next to a serviceman on an airplane?  Will freedom still be sacred and sought after with life and blood and sacrifice?  Will there still be honor in one’s country and pride in one’s homeland?

These songwriters and poets wondered that same thing centuries ago.  What would tomorrow bring?  Is the flag still there?  Is there still hope?  What will this new America become?

Which, then, I imagine is why every song goes something like this:

America, America, God mend thine every flaw, Confirm thy soul in self control, Thy liberty in law.

Or like this:

Our father’s God to Thee, Author of Liberty, To Thee we sing, Long may our land be bright With freedom’s holy light, Protect us, by Thy might, Great God our King

And of course, this:

O, thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand, Between their loved home and war’s desolation, Blessed with victory and peace, may the heaven rescued land, Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation, Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, And this be our motto, “In God is our Trust!”, And the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

For our forefathers, those who came before us generations and generations ago, there was only One place to turn when the future was uncertain and unknown.  And it’s the same place I turn in the middle of my warbly, tearful hymns, holding my precious little girl in my arms and wondering about tomorrow.

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