Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day 2008

Updated 5/27 - fixed typos.

1. The ceremony

Today I sang at the Groton (MA) cemetery, in their Memorial Day ceremony. This is the first time I've ever participated in such a ceremony, and it's time to say why, and what's different this year.

I came of age as assassinations and disillusionment put an end to post-WW II optimism. When I was 13 JFK was shot. We lived near DC and Dad took us to his office to watch the cortege. When I was 18, leaving high school for college, Martin Luther King Jr and Bobby Kennedy were shot.

Something horrid was happening in the country. Then the Chicago Democratic convention happened, with cops bashing demonstrators on TV while a circus went on inside. (This was when reporters had the guts to call a spade a spade, and show it.) I couldn't believe what I was seeing; I was raised an optimist, fully participating in that post-WW II sense that America was great so all we had to do was work it out by talking.

I moved to Cambridge for college, where my optimism was ultimately shattered when I saw a cop smash the skull of a kid who was simply standing on a corner, while rioting happened 1-2 blocks away. (I know, many of you have heard that too often.) In my world cops couldn't possibly have done that, but I saw it. And suddenly all the things left-wingers and pessimists were saying were happening all around.

That was a filthy, corrupt war. (Note: I did not say anyone who was in it was filthy and corrupt.) I was left with a very disspirited feeling about everything to do with the military, because it seemed so polarized: either you loved everything military or you were anti-American. I just stayed out of the conversation.

Now I've aged. I faced death myself last year, leaving me acutely wondering what we're leaving behind for the next generations. I find myself concerned, seeing the rights that make us America increasingly eroded, and wondering who's going to win that particular fight. And I thought about the people who died to win us those rights.

I realized that for the first time I have a deep respect and appreciation for those who've willingly put their butts on the line for what they believed in, and got killed: went through that portal that I faced involuntarily.

That's really something. Their integrity, standing for what they believe in, transcends any lies and corruption that may have surrounded them.

So today as I practiced (and performed) "the land of the free and the home of the brave" and "America, my home" it had an impact on me that it's never had before.

2. The state of healthcare today

At the cemetery we stood near a tombstone detailing the fate of a family. As we work on solving healthcare's challenges, let's remember what a different world it is today. (The first date is unclear in the photo - it's 1798. Click to enlarge, if you want.)