Sunday, November 9, 2008

Oh Say Can You See?

Sometimes things come out of the blue, or, in the case of last night, the red, white and blue. My youngest daughter is in the Austin Civic Orchestra, and Craig and my mom and I went to her first concert of the season last night. We got there early so we just visited with each other, made last-minute trips to the bathroom, read the program, and I passed the time by eating some Starburst. The lights finally dimmed in the Reagan Performing Arts Center (great acoustics, by the way) and the orchestra began tuning. The conductor walked out to hearty applause, lifted her baton, and that's when the surprise came. I thought they were starting the concert, but about one measure in I realized they were playing the national anthem. As we're conditioned to do, everyone stood. Now let me interject here that over the last 20 years I have been to 10,001 events where the national anthem was played: football games, basketball games, volleyball games, soccer games, dance recitals, awards ceremonies and a whole slew of other things I can't recall at the moment. Following the activities of my children has afforded me ample opportunity to pause and recall that I am fortunate to live in America. But to be honest I'm usually not plugged in. Every now and then I've put my hand on my heart, and occasionally I've even been known to faintly sing along. But for the most part it's become a lifeless ritual for me. No, I don't hate our country, and contrary to what some of the recent political candidates have alleged, I consider myself a true or real American. But going to rote when a long-held tradition pops up is sort of like any other thing that has deteriorated into sheer ceremony - you're doing it but there's an interior disconnect. It's like a couple that genuinely care about each other, but somehow their incessant "I-love-you's" have blended in with the scenery, rendering them somehow less powerful than they used to be. Anyway, as we stood there in that dim auditorium I noticed a small handful of quiet, even mumbling, voices singing along. It grew louder. With each phrase the orchestra seemed to be playing more forcefully, loudly, the strokes of bows against strings becoming more pronounced and distinct. I started singing, still somewhat unaware of what was happening. By the time we got to, "…and the rockets red glare…" the majority of the audience was singing enthusiastically, fervently, loudly. I, too, was singing near the top of my lungs. It was phenomenal - like seeing my granddaughters face turn from gray to bright pink when she took her first breath. With the exception of the aftermath of 9/11 - when we all clung to each other out of shock and fear and devotion to a badly bruised America - last night was the first time I remember being in an audience that was vitally, dynamically, joyfully connected to that song. When the last note was played the audience erupted into thunderous applause. I marveled that I was at an orchestra concert, not a football game. Craig and I turned and looked at each other, eyes wide. "That was cool," he said. I nodded in agreement. This morning I'm still savoring that little burst of fresh air, and am grateful that, regardless of its size, there has been a slight shift since the November 4 election. The audacity of hope, indeed.