Spouse is good if grim today on 9/11. Read him and weep.
I am a fan of “America the Beautiful, ” but feel it should be done as a bluesy meditation, Ray Charles-style, ideally without the violins to swamp it up. I had hoped our pick-up choir at church could sing it for 4th of July Sunday (they didn’t), so ordered an arrangement that promised it had a “strong gospel feel.”
Once I received it, I found that it had been especially commissioned for a memorial service shortly after the towers fell. Sure enough, it’s a lovely, gospel-infused version. But as I played through it the first time, I was caught a little short. I had remembered that the final verse was quite self-reflective, asking God to shed his grace on America not because we deserve it, but because we really, really need it. So I looked it up. And while I was wrong – it’s actually got about a million verses and is pretty chest-beating most of the way through – this important couplet was neatly excised:
America! America! God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law!
Oh dear. One of the saddest things about the whole incident has been the general view held by Americans that there is no such thing as chickens coming home to roost. Every flaw? The admission of ONE flaw is treason!! Treason, I tell you!!! And then there’s that bit about self-control, which, though dear to Pilgrim ideology (this is the Pilgrim feet verse), has never been a strong suit in American practice, including by said Pilgrims (read Mayflower and learn about King Philip’s War, which decimated about 80% of the Native population at the time). As far as confirming our liberty in law – I can only hope that this wasn’t the inspiration for the Patriot Act.
I can see why the spouse deplores nationalism, which he always refers to as tribalism. In the Durant book (see a few posts back), the author says something to the effect that nations must hope with all their hearts for peace but keep the powder dry. The whole point of a nation is to preserve your stuff from the barbarians at the gates. In order to do that, you pretty much have to draw us/them lines and since power is gained and preserved only by a fairly rigid definition of us/them, then those who believe we can transcend boundaries will never have any power and the same old shit will happen over and over.
So….this is making my head hurt. I leave you with my own tribute to the towers, written a day after they collapsed. I did not know, and thus cannot mourn personally for anyone who died that day, or for anyone who has died because of them since – thank God. But, man, I really do miss the towers.
Here’s the piece.
This really happened.
My sister and I drove up on the New Jersey turnpike from Washington, D.C. The trunk of the car was stuffed with a couple of suitcases packed with my and my daughter’s worldly goods. I was returning, after a five-year hiatus and with a two-year-old in tow, to the city I loved: New York, New York, the only place in the world with the audacity to name itself twice
We were listening to the classical station. The turnpike dips and glides on its way to the city, and the approach has a way of sneaking the skyline up on you. We caught our first, very distant, hazy view of the World Trade Center Towers just as Ravel’s Bolero began on the radio.
Now if you know Ravel’s Bolero, you know that it sort of slithers along at a very consistent tempo. The melody starts on a flute, then the flute gets joined by the winds, and so on and so forth until the whole orchestra joins in and culminates in a stupendous final crescendo. And as we snaked along that road with the music playing, once in a while we’d crest a hill and get a little more city perfectly synchronized to the music’s increasing weight and volume.
At a certain spot when you’re driving on the turnpike, the city suddenly appears. Huge. Glittering. Majestic. A little scary. I knew that. I had been on that road years ago, at night, on a bus from Jersey that gave me my first glimpse of New York. And while I hoped in the back of my head that the music would time out perfectly, that the city would burst into view exactly as Bolero reached its crashing, blaring conclusion, I didn’t think there was any way in hell that that really could happen
Suddenly, it was all there. The skyline peaked gracefully over the Empire State Building, then dipped and glided up in the powerful swoop that led to the top of the twin towers. And I knew then, with the horns heralding away in the background, that despite having been born and raised in California, despite a steamy tenure in Florida and adventures in a dozen other states, I was a New Yorker. That skyline welcomed me back as the prodigal daughter that I was. I’d have to kill the fatted calf myself, but that’s one of the reasons you come to New York in the first place, because you know that there are fatted calves all over the city, and one’s got your name on it.
I’ve since left New York, left in disgrace, defeated by the increasing demands of the city as an ungenerous, unrealistic relative. But I’m still a New Yorker. My co-workers, my family, everyone I know sees New York stamped into my DNA as indelibly as are my yellow-green eyes and my German peasant bones. And even fleeing the city as I did, vowing never to return, I still feel a mix of irrational pride, annoyance, and unconditional love whenever I read about another New Yorker acting in a way that only a real New Yorker would ever attempt, much less understand, or when I see a street corner I know well getting its 15 seconds of fame in a movie. Because if the city’s in your blood, you’re related not just to your fellow New Yorkers but to the landscape itself: the parks, the taxicabs, the pigeons, the architecture.
As I watched those towers go up in flame and then collapse over and over again yesterday, part of me died. Sometimes over the years, I would look up at them as I headed downtown and wonder idly what would happen if a plane hit one; all New Yorkers, believe it or not, thought the same thing at one time or another. Sometimes I questioned if the skyline’s pre-tower symmetry, utterly sacrificed and irretrievable, really deserved the nostalgia that some people professed. But mostly, I looked at the towers and remembered the sight that had welcomed me not once, or even twice, but every time I had been someplace else and was finally coming home. In the back of my head, I knew they would always be there. And while I fully realize that they weren’t people, I know that they weren’t just buildings, either.
The impossible cuts both ways.
This really happened