My sister and I have wondered why we cry during parades when veterans pass. For sure as the grandchildren of immigrants, a sense of luck and awe imbued our youth and there is no doubt we were taught to quickly rise when the flag passed by, but we don't have a deep military history in our family (that we know of). Still, like many of you I bet, we both feel strong pangs when we encounter those who have served, and when we hear things like the opening chords of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."
When my kids were small I volunteered quite a bit in children's programming for my church and I remember the first time I stopped by the pastor's office to discuss some detail of something -- probably summer vacation church school, based on the timing here. I'll never forget it because while I waited in the hallway I overheard murmurings from the meeting before mine: it involved 4 or 5 local military veterans discussing with the pastor why the Battle Hymn wasn't on the program for the Memorial Day service. I recall that the gathering had a palpable emotional charge for sure and that the veterans, all elderly, were standing and the pastor was sitting. Now it's not my intention to take sides on a religious matter here but more to relate an example of seeing a thing from all sides, because here's what happened -- the pastor bravely explained that it wasn't on the program because the Battle Hymn had always made him feel uncomfortable. Quietly he asserted that some of the Hymn's lyrics troubled him because they seemed to have "Our Lord" taking sides on a battlefield. Plus it seemed to him the stirring melody and fervent feeling the congregation conveyed singing the Battle Hymn roused a sort of "us versus them" sensibility - one that didn't feel quite right to him in a church. (I can add that when our congregation actually knows the entire melody and even harmonies of a hymn - there are 733 tunes in our hymnal — we really bring it). I adored and admired the veterans in the office that day, and have always loved performing that hymn, but I and they were moved by the pastor's words. His was quite a position to take given the circumstances. I've never forgotten that moment and I call it up whenever I need reminding that there are two sides to almost everything. As I recall, in the end we sang both the Battle Hymn and one of the pastor's favorites, "This Is My Song."* For me with my insider insight, it was an especially moving service.
I bet you're wondering how on earth this ties into a bookstore blog!? Well, here's what brought to mind that exchange: yesterday as I was reading a newspaper's review of summer books, I came across a new history about how one American was selected for interment in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington, Virginia. If ever I write a book, I want Matthew Davenport (if he likes it) to do the review because geez did he with moving lyricism recommend "The Unknowns" by Patrick O'Donnell. Here's an example: "By revealing the stories of those whose names and deeds we do know, 'The Unknowns' prods our consciences to heap fresh honor upon the Unknown Soldier of World War I, renewing his station as the mortal embodiment of every American who has fallen on a battlefield far from home." My sister and I are totally tearing up just reading the review!
And yet, recalling my experience outside a pastor's office long ago, I got up and retrieved my small collection of World War I poems by Siegfried Sassoon (couldn't locate my Wilfred Owen) and re-read a few of his agonizing and emotional battlefield descriptions. I know I need to keep in my bookstore owning heart and mind as many perspectives as I can. I will carry both, so thanks, Pastor Ed. I bet you didn't know I was standing there that day and I'm sure you don't know how your quiet position informs my thinking and indeed, book-buying. Every day.
— Sandy Koropp
*This Is My Song
by Lloyd Stone and Georgia Harkness
This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine;
this is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine:
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.
My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;
but other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
and skies are everywhere as blue as mine:
O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
a song of peace for their land and for mine.
May truth and freedom come to every nation;
may peace abound where strife has raged so long;
that each may seek to love and build together,
a world united, righting every wrong;
a world united in its love for freedom,
proclaiming peace together in one song.*
*Third stanza by Georgia Harkness.
St. 3 © 1964 Lorenz Publishing Co.Sts, 1, 2 © 1934, 1962 Lorenz Publishing Co.