I attended a teaching conference in New Orleans last week. Obviously, life is rough. At the opening session of the conference, I was surprised to see that a color guard was presenting the American flag and the Star Spangled Banner was going to be sung. I'd never seen this at a conference before, and the cynical girl inside me started to bristle and roll her eyes. But then, I reminded cynical girl that this was a public education conference and not a church service-- a public education conference sponsored by the Southern Regional Education Board at that. So, if they wanted stars and stripes, as ridiculous as it seemed to me, they were perfectly entitled to it.
The woman who was slated to sing the national anthem was a principal in a Texas high school. The music was canned and started slowly. Great, I thought. Not only are we singing the national anthem, but we're doing it at the pace of a funeral dirge. I've always felt that if you're going to sing the national anthem, then it should be done with energy and gusto. However, as the principal sang, I found myself captivated. She had a powerful voice, and although the song was sung slowly, it definitely had gusto. Her tone, her inflection, her sheer power made it a song of triumph born out of great struggle. I understood for the first time in a long time the meaning behind the words. It became a song of perseverance, of faith and hope that out of darkness would come light.
As the anthem came to a close, I thought about the fact that we were standing in the heart of New Orleans, ravished almost two years ago by Hurricane Katrina. Touring the city, there is still so much in disrepair, so much that has not returned, so many who have not returned. I found that this song, sung this way, was a tribute to this city, this region, that has been through so much. Walking through the French Quarter throughout the week, I saw many signs and t-shirts carrying the phrase, "Rebuild New Orleans". There is a pride and a hope in the city that I felt profoundly as the national anthem was sung. It is a pride and hope that I feel deep down about our country, that we can push through the present darkness and come out triumphant into the light of a new day. It may not come for awhile, but I fimly believe we will get there.
I found myself cheering as the anthem came to a close, cheering for the talented singer, cheering for a city which is rising again, and cheering on a country where hope still shines through, no matter how hard it may be to see.
Blessings and Peace,