My dad served in the U.S Army for 26 years of his life - nearly three decades. He was fortunate enough to spend all of those years either performing in or conducting Army bands. I was fortunate enough to be around for the last 10 (or so) years of his active duty.
I remember a lot of things about my time as an Army band kid. I remember the days spent in dad's band hall, closely studying all the musicians during their ensemble rehearsals. They were my every day superheroes. I remember sitting in the hall, outside of the windowed practice rooms, trying to sneak in a listen through the soundproofed doors and catch some of the musician's private practice. I knew who the best musicians in the band were, so when I saw them heading to the practice rooms, I'd follow close behind. I remember touching every instrument I could get my hands on. They were like magic wands to me. I remember watching my dad sit at the dining room table for hours at night, painstakingly crafting his own oboe reeds. It seemed like it was therapy to him after a long day at work. I vividly remember the distinct smell of dad's Army uniform, which greeted me when I ran to hug him as he came through the door in the evening. I remember pressing my sobbing face into his hip during the really powerful songs that moved me to tears. Listening to dad's bands taught me how to feel music. I remember the immense gratitude I felt at my dad's retirement ceremony. Even as a child, I was overwhelmed with gratefulness that my dad chose to welcome me into his professional life and cultivate my deep passion for music every chance he could. My time as an Army band kid was a season of my life that I can honestly say I've never taken for granted. I will fondly remember those years for as long as I live.
However, I'm not writing this piece to gloat about my incredible father. I'm not writing this to reminisce on the good old days. I'm not writing for the sake of nostalgia.
This 4th of July week, I want to share with you why I'm proud to be an American, and my time as an Army band kid has everything to do with that pride.
You know.. I'm not going to even call it pride. I'm going to call it gratefulness. I'm grateful to be an American.
Of all the things I remember from my childhood, I most clearly remember my dad's Independence Day concerts. I think I looked forward to those concerts more than my birthday parties.
It was those hot, humid Fourth of July concerts in the park that instilled in me a gratefulness for this country that will never be shaken. No rotten president, no angsty social media posts, no terror, no corrupt politician, no media outlet, no NOTHING could ever diminish the pure, innocent gratefulness for this country that was instilled in me during my dad's 4th of July concerts in the park.
Those concerts were the one time during the year where the entire community would come out and simply unify - regardless of race, creed, lifestyle, or political affiliation. I think the first time I ever experienced a true sense of wonder and awe, and the single most influential event in my life as an American, was during one of my dad's 4th of July concerts.
It was a year (maybe two?) after September 11, 2001. We were a country still in distress. It was a tense time. It was a tender time. I think every American citizen was clinging on to any source of light they could capture...praise God, my dad's Army band was a great beacon.
I think, out of the hundreds of concerts I attended as a kid, this was the most important one. It consisted of the same pop-patriotic songs, rich American traditional songs, and marches they always played...but there was a new feeling this time around. There was an aura of peace and hope amidst the chaos in our nation. There was an assurance of safety and strength that was felt by all. There was a spirit of resilience running strong through the entire congregation of listeners and performers alike.
Even as a child in the second grade, the importance of this experience was very obvious to me. As I sat at that concert, I began to feel very deeply...
I was grateful to live in a country where I felt safe and free. I was grateful for my dad and all of his brothers in uniform who worked so hard to unify the people of our hurting country by means of beauty and art. I was grateful to be able to sing, listen, and clap to songs that run deep in the blood of this nation. I was grateful to wave my stars and stripes. I was grateful to marvel at the fireworks in the sky with a great melting pot of brothers and sisters surrounding me. I was so darn grateful to be an American. And yeah, I'll say it, I was proud too.
Friends, as I began writing this, I didn't really know what point I was trying to make. I just wanted to relay an important season of my life that might help you to love a country that can be hard to love sometimes, but is worth loving nonetheless. However, as I think back on these important memories, I guess I really just want to remind you of how great we have it in the United States of America. It's not because of our government, our policies, our military, or even our history. It's not because of what we do right, because we still do a lot wrong. It's not because of what we have accomplished, because we often fail.
It's because of we, the people.
I truly believe that the unique mixture of humans and culture in this country is what makes us great. The diverse corners of our country make us great. The freedom to be individuals and free thinkers makes us great. The moments where we find it in ourselves to unify despite our differences, like at my dad's Independence Day concerts, are what make us great.
There really is no place like the the good, old U.S of A. There is nothing quite like the incredible individuals and communities that inhabit it.
Praise God for this country! Have a safe 4th of July, my friends.