I was watching the speeches of the DNC on my laptop this week. Often in the wee hours of the morning, I go to YouTube and catch what I missed from the previous day. It means I am a little late behind the news sometimes, but I get to weed out all of the objectional graphics and frivolity that passes for news these days.
So, I pulled up YouTube and saw young Olympian Gabby Douglas recite the Pledge of Allegiance (nice) and Wynton Marsalis trumpet the National Anthem. And that's when I noticed them as the camera panned the crowd. The countless veterans standing at attention, right hand held horizontal to the left eye in salute of the flag. I looked a their faces and saw the strain and wondered what memories this conjured, what recollections this held of lost friends, comrades in arms, old chums.
Earlier this week I had been moved by a similar display in a tiny town in the North Carolina mountains. Hendersonville has that Americana charm that reminds us of a partially fictitious yesteryear for which so many of us long, a simpler time when we moved under the power of our own steam, when we greeted neighbor by neighbor, face to face, eye to eye with pleasantry and gallantry. I fell in love immediately with this sleepy little hamlet all dolled up for its annual apple festival. It was full of pageantry and local color and everyone for that day belonged - everyone, young, old, black, white, latino, native american, gay and straight belonged. I fell in love so much so that I have vowed to go back and see the place again with its purple mountains majesty surrounding it in every direction.
But what struck me most that day was the people lining the street for the annual parade. High school bands, choirs, dance groups, Shriners, Democrats, Republicans, Tea Baggers, local businesses, youth groups, women's groups, men's groups, groups for breast cancer awareness, hospice and HIV/AIDS awareness all marched side by side. And then one of the ladies seated on the ground in front of me said, "Here they come. Here's our guys, just what we've all been waiting for." She and everyone around and across the street from her scrambled to stand up and began clapping and cheering. It took a minute for the wagon to make it's way into my view. The veterans, men and women who had served our country, all ages, most of them in cars or on a trolley because they couldn't make it down the long 16 blocks independently.
I watched them as the crowd roared to its feet and cheered them on, many of us simply saying, "Thank you." I looked at the few lone soldiers who strolled the parade route along with their wives and children by their sides. I wondered too what losses they have suffered in the name of freedom and apple pie. I thought about the families in the crowd whose sons and daughters, mothers, fathers, husbands and wives are still over there or who will never make it home. I thought about the men in my family - fathers, uncles, brothers, nephews who served and whose lives have been and still are haunted by what they witnessed and still so many years later will not speak of. I thought of my brother who works in Boston with homeless vets many of them battling addictions acquired to fight the demons in their heads. And I think of the fellow who sat down with Mitt Romney while he stumped
in New England and asked why Romney is against his husband receiving
the benefits he should receive as the spouse of a veteran. He wondered why Romney was against civil rights. And yes, I shed a tear.
I am a person of peace. I do not like war and although I do understand the rationale behind it, it still seems wrong. Yet, I am so grateful to the people who risk their lives in service to their country and who put everything on the line and ask for nothing in return. Let's face it, most of us don't think about the freedoms we have and how we get them. We are content to live our lives and shout about anything we don't like, fight for anything we don't want, maybe - just maybe sign a petition online when someone posts it on Facebook. But when it comes down to it, we don't really think about the bloodshed and the horror we tune out on the nightly news or the fact that someone's brother down the street may be fighting in that bloody battle over oil or land or religion that ultimately will protect our freedoms to scream at the convention idiots on our 120 inch 1080 DLP flat-screens with 7:1 surround sound from the comfort of our theater rooms.
And I am as guilty as the next person. So yes, I got a little verklempt when I saw the beautiful young African American gymnast put her hand across her chest, and a bit teary eyed when the myriad voices joined as one with the sax in singing the national anthem, and yes I proudly stood in my bedroom at my desk saluting the soldiers and saying, "Thank you," just as I had done this past Monday, Labor Day when those men and women went by. This country with all of its problems still yet to be worked out remains one of the freest places in the world, where so much is possible. And I will stand with any man or woman who marches to defend our right to be as right or wrong as any of us sees fit. It is a good country, one for which there is still great hope.
So shortly, I will watch my president accept the nomination of the Democratic Party for another term. And I will hope and pray that this good country will elect this man for four more years. I'm feeling a little red white and blue tonight and full of hope and faith. And a whole lot of Love.
Robin G. White is the author of Reflections of A Life Well Spent (Sunset Pointe Press) and the 2001 Resurrections: A Collection of Work (Kings Crossing Publishing). Her books, First Breath (Sunset Pointe Press) and Omphaloskepsis Guided Writing Journal (Sunset Pointe Press) will be released in the Fall of 2013.