Monday, January 30, 2012

"The Star-Spangled Banner"

I'm incredibly nostalgic and overly patriotic with my husband gone.
Hence the military blogs.
I always tear up when I hear the "Star-Spangled Banner", but when he's deployed, I actually let the tears fall.
My kids get so embarrassed. Come on, I have an excuse.
Sitting at the Denver rodeo last week was no different.
The flag flies, the song plays, and I cry. Every time.
My husband would be proud that I could be moved by such a song.
I've come a long way since our engagement.

I was only 19 when we got engaged.
"A mature 19" I used to think.
Still only 19.
Hadn't lived much.
Hadn't struggled much.
Hadn't wanted for much.
Hadn't sacrificed much.
How mature can you be at 19 with those credentials?

I giggled with a friend as we walked around the concourse of the University of Colorado basketball arena. Cutey fiance' strolled beside me. Just days after our engagement, this was my night to proudly show him off to my friends. They thought I was crazy for saying "yes" to an engagement. I was determined to prove them wrong. As I expected, he was performing quite well. He laughed at the appropriate times, charmed them with his smile, and talked in that endearing Georgia accent.
I had seriously lucked out finding this guy.
We needed to get married before he met the real me. Good thing our wedding was only a couple months away.

The rise and fall of the boisterous crowd inside the arena had grown quiet.
I didn't notice. I kept giggling.
I was too caught up in the thrill of the moment---the grand introduction of my husband-to-be.
A full minute passed before I realized that my handsome fiance' was no longer walking beside me.
Where did he go?
My friend stopped and collectively our eyes searched to and fro.
It was then that I looked back.

Surely not.
I saw a man, standing tall and confident, in one of the doorways that faced into the arena.
I recognized his military stance.
Faintly, I could hear the "Star-Spangled Banner" in the background.
Oh no. Not one of "those guys."
My friend raised her eyebrows at me and I gradually slinked my way back to his side.
This time I was sort of embarrassed to be beside him.
Not that I wasn't raised patriotic. My dad had served in the Air Force when I was a little girl and I loved my country, but did my patriotism really need to be tested here?
This was CU...not the military academy.
Did he really need to stand so tall?
Come on, Dude. Are you softly singing too?
My friends are watching.

I reached for his hand. No response.
O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming.
He did have a nice gentle voice.
What did those words even mean though? What's a rampart?
I really had no idea at the time.
I tried to catch his eye for a grin as the ..rockets red glare.
He stared straight ahead---not once did he look in my direction.
I felt like a child caught with her hand in the cookie jar.

I sheepishly stood beside him. I kind of wanted to hide.
Not because of my disrespect for the song.
Mostly because he was so proudly American.
This was not turning out the way I had planned.
My friend had moved on.
My fiance' was paralyzed by the national anthem.
What's a girl to do?

The song ended and I slowly looked up--tried to bat my eyelashes a little.
It didn't work.
For the first time ever, I saw a look of disappointment in his eyes.
I'd never seen him so serious.
I waited for him to speak.
Calmly, quietly, sternly, he said, "That song might not mean anything to you.
It means something to me. You need to think about what you're getting into by marrying me."
I wonder if he meant that HE needed to think about what he was
getting into by marrying me.
Maybe he doubted I was up to the task of being a military wife.
Maybe he was right.

We met back up with a couple friends and I noticed a cool reserve had settled over him.
He didn't care if they thought he was weird.
He thought they were disrespectful by not stopping.
Mutual disappointment.
We still got married.

Through the years, I learned to stand still during the "Star-Spangled Banner."
I even researched the event behind the writing of the song.
The defense of Ft.McHenry told through the lyrics of America's national anthem.
The bombs bursting in air. Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
How awesome is the thought of bombs lighting up the sky--all night long--giving hope to all watching that our flag was still standing.
America had not been defeated.
You gotta be slightly moved when you understand the words.
Eventually, I even got over my embarrassment of singing and learned to at least mouth the words when the anthem played.
Honestly, for years I still thought the veterans that sang the song so loudly during sporting events were a little goofy.
Why must they sing so loud and proud? Don't they know we're watching?
I now realize that they don't care what I think...they don't care if I'm watching.
They've paid a price to sing that song as loudly and proudly and off-key as they want.
Surely I can let them sing without casting judgement.

Six years after our marriage, three small children (not my own) would give me a lesson in the national anthem that still moves me to tears.
What began with my husband's slight reprimand in the CU arena would be solidified by a big sister and her two little brothers on a playground in Tucson.

At the end of every day...on every military base...the American flag is lowered as the national anthem plays loud enough for all to hear.
If you are outside on base when it starts, you are to stop and respectfully stand still.
If you are driving on base, you are to stop your car at the very least. Some people even get out of their car to stand as the "Star-Spangled Banner" plays.

Late one afternoon, I sat in the sand watching my two little boys climb on a playground on Davis Monthan AFB. The national anthem started to play and I groaned that I hadn't paid attention to the time. My two rowdy little guys did not stand still very well. I usually spent the whole anthem trying to squeeze their bodies next to mine so they didn't squirm too much and disturb others.
I half-heartedly tried to round them up.
Only a girl and her two little brothers were playing on the playground with us.
No one else was around.
Who would know if I just let my guys play during the national anthem?
I was certain this girl and her brothers wouldn't care.
They probably wouldn't even notice.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of the big sister---eight years of age at the oldest---quickly gathering her two little brothers.
They were probably the same age as my boys.
While my kiddos were running from me, her brothers had heard the first chords of the national anthem and they were already running toward her.
I watched as she stood them in a line beside her and helped them place their tiny hands over their heart.
Eight, four, and two...side by side these siblings parents guiding this effort...proudly singing their national anthem.
Humbled, I tried harder to get my boys to stand still.
My littlest threw himself face down in the sand at my efforts.
At least he was finally quiet...the sand in his mouth stifled his cries.
Those three kids stood confidently until the final notes sounded.
Joyfully, they ran off unaware that they had just taught a lesson to a young mom that had witnessed their touching display of patriotism

Later, I saw the mom and dad of this trio walking their kids to a car.
A beat-up mini-van.
The dad wore the uniform of a young enlisted man.
Probably making barely enough to even feed his family of five.
That humbled me further. These kids were not living a privileged life in the military. Their daddy wasn't a high-ranking officer.
Their daddy was simply an airman.
An airman that had trained his children to stand proud at the playing of the national anthem. The Air Force wasn't blessing these kids monetarily, but it seemed to me these kids were being taught rich lessons that money can't buy.

I remember watching the family as they drove away and thinking back to that day in the CU basketball arena. The day I kept walking when the national anthem played. At the park that day, I remember being thankful that while the military was never going to financially spoil us, my kids were bound for a life that would offer them far bigger lessons.

The land of the free
And the home of the brave.

I have a shirt that says,
Land of the free
Because of the brave.

Let those veterans sing as loudly as they want...
Teach your kids the words to the "Star-Spangled Banner"...
And definitely STOP WALKING when the anthem begins to play...
I wonder how close that one action came to postponing my wedding...
Maybe I don't want to know...

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