Saturday, July 28, 2012

Saturday Musings, 28 July 2012

Good morning:

For somewhere, it is morning. In London, I suppose; six hours ahead of us, where the Olympiads have already trod upon the British soil with their heads thrown back, jubilant eyes shining towards the cheering crowd. As I watched the 530 American athletes, a strange sensation rose within me, starting with a clenching in my stomach. I found myself overwhelmed with something that still haunts me, hours later: an undefined, unsettling emotion that leaves me wakeful and draws me from my pillow to the keyboard of my computer.

I am not sure what it means to be an American anymore. I find myself re-examining long-held notions. I sat over breakfast with a long-time Democrat activist this week, early enough that the hostess had had to unlock the front door to admit me and brought my coffee as her co-workers threw on the lights and drew open the blinds. My breakfast companion was an old acquaintance, one of the brains behind many campaigns on which I worked in my younger years.

We could not restrain ourselves from discussing the election, and I listened to his keen analysis. He acknowledged the same sort of weariness with the whole process that makes me recoil from political activism, decades after I willingly acquired a stinging sunburn working the polls from morning until long after the setting of the blazing sun. Though we agreed that neither of us could ever switch parties, we forlornly conceded the devastation that the stark divide between the two factions has occasioned. Ten years that separate us in age and cast us into different generations, but we both keenly feel the overbearing fatigue that comes from endless enthusiasm too long unrewarded.

But none of that means anything when I see the colors of my country held aloft by strong young arms, when I follow the path cut by the firm steps of American athletes marching on foreign ground, arms entwined, cell phones held aloft to record the entrance of Team USA from the first person. On the other side of the world from these young men and women, I pause in my reading of a dull Italian mystery to watch their entrance, thinking to myself, these are Americans, these are my brothers and sisters.

I remember an evening, long ago, when I stood at the base of a flagpole with my Camp Fire Girls troop. I had drawn flag duty that morning, and the sun would soon set. One of our members lowered the flag. I reached, with my small hands and clumsy fingers, to catch the cloth so that it would not touch the ground. She undid the clasps that held it. We each took two corners, and I walked backwards so that the fabric stretched between us, stumbling only a little. The sounds of Taps drifted from the loud speakers on nearby poles, each mournful note reverberating through the still air. My companion and I folded the flag as we had been taught and tirelessly practiced. My hands trembled; I pursed my lips so tightly that they grew numb.

We met in the middle, and finished the last fold, tucking the edges to form a solid triangle. I tendered the flag to my troop mate. She turned, crisply, and placed it in the waiting hands of the staff member who had come to monitor the process. Our job done, we silently marched across the empty quadrangle and made our way to the bunks which housed us.

As I lay in bed that night, sleepless even as I am this night, I reflected on the ceremony in which I had just participated. I listened to the sounds of my bunk mates settling for the night, staring out the window at the starlit Ozark sky. I had no sense of loyalty to my country at that age. Flashes of understanding only occasionally fired through my otherwise lazy synapses.

I remembered being held over the cheering crowds at a rally for John F. Kennedy, my older sister's strength hoisting me above the clamoring din so that I could slip my tiny hand into the large, warm clasp of the young senator who would soon be crowned and take his place in Camelot. A few years later, after the King had been slain, I chanted anti-Goldwater songs as I skipped rope, to the consternation of my best friend whose parents must have been Republicans. And always, I listened to my father talk of going to War, the war that followed the one that had been intended to put an end to such human folly; but I did not then equate my father's march down the Burma trail with any kind of patriotism. To me, his effort seemed sad and useless, like the work of the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike.

Somewhere in time, my vague sense of belonging to a nation took solid form. I fly the Stars and Stripes and have for the 19 years of my occupancy of my present home. I did not form my loyalty while working on any of the many elections in which I stuffed fliers and telephoned to cajole voters into leaving their comfortable recliners to vote. Those efforts benefited candidates, and my enthusiasm stemmed from allegiance to those candidates.

I hear again the haunting sound of Taps, and realize that somehow my national pride is connected with the song's long mournful notes. I close my eyes and try to trace the route from that camper's bunk, from which I listened to the sounds of crickets and the calls of night owls, to the lurching of my stomach as I watched Team USA enter the Olympic stadium. In the forty-five years between those moments, I became an American by choice.

The words of Taps drift through my mind:

Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky
All is well, safely rest
God is nigh.
Fading light dims the sight
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright
From afar, drawing near
Falls the night.
Thanks and praise for our days
Neath the sun, neath the stars, neath the sky
As we go, this we know
God is nigh.(1)

Sorrow mingles with awe as a tableau arises unbidden in my memory: From the window of a slowly moving car, I see a row of soldiers lining the road. I slip from the car soon after it stops, and walk over unlevel ground towards a raised white tent. I stand beside my sister as a coffin is carried from the hearse, my infant son clutched against my breast. The bugler plays. Standing on a nearby rise, three riflemen lift their weapons, and discharge their three volleys into the afternoon air. Silent soldiers take the flag from the coffin, fold it as I had folded the Camp's flag so many years before, and, silent still, present it to my nephew Eric, the oldest grandson of a fallen giant.

On many afternoons in my childhood, I stood in my father's workroom and traced the contours of his Muleskinner's stirrups, gingerly touched the ivory brought home from that desolate beautiful country in which he served, and read the faded typing on the pass that he had created for himself. I held in my hands a creased photograph of my father as a young soldier. The intentness of my scrutiny creased my brow as I studied the light in his eyes, first in the picture and then in his aging face. I watched him while he told his stories, wondering if his obsession with war flowed from the terror that he saw, or because in that war, he had a sense of purpose derived from the service that he rendered to his country. I never knew. But when I stand on my porch and watch my flag tossing in the breeze, the eyes of my father come to mind.

I have just a few hours left in which to find some rest. When morning comes, I will drag myself to the office, where I will brew coffee before the other lawyer and our two clients arrive. From the seeds planted in a late-afternoon call at the end of the Friday workday, the terms of a settlement will be painfully negotiated. Signatures will be cast upon the lines at the bottom of the final drafts. Notary seals will be affixed; and hands shaken. When the meeting is done, I will find a coffee shop with a television, and for an hour or so, nothing will matter but the quest of my fellow Americans for gold.

Mugwumpishly tendered,

Corinne Corley

(1) written by Horace Lorenzo Trim

1 comment:

  1. Corinne, I believe that Blogs are such a gift to us in this day and age. Until you finally have some of your essays/ reflections in print so I can hold the book in my hand, I will look forward each week to listen to your memories and the emotions that are evoked. And you allow me to feel what you feel and see what you see. You are truly gifted... I am blessed to get to read EVERY WEEK!


The Missouri Mugwump™

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I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.