Today is Veterans Day. Both of my grampas are veterans, a lot of my friends parents, and a lot of my friends. I am so humbled to know them and know how selfless they are. They take a lot more than a week of their lives to build a house for someone. They risk everything so I can sit here, on my macbook, and procrastinate studying for my psych exam at 1 pm.
Like everyone, I feel eternally grateful to the work they have done and continue to do. It's inspiring and incredibly powerful.
But I'd like to talk about where I was four years ago today.
I was a Senior at Roxbury High School. It was November, so I was just catching my breath after the fall show and mb season. It was veterans day, and traditionally, our school put on a assembly every other year. They were always good assemblies, with speakers who had fought in various wars, movie clips, ect. I remembered my Sophomore year assembly vividly (mostly because I was sitting in the balcony with the Seniors and thought I. was. AWESOME.) but this year would be different.
A week prior to Veterans Day, Lance Cpl. Don Brown was killed in action in Iraq. Don was two years older than me (and was probably sitting in the balcony two years prior at the assembly). He played football, went to church youth groups, ran track and was generally a nice guy. I had met him a few times, but never enough that he would have remembered my name (or at least I don't think he would have). I had been startled by the news of his death, as most of us were, but it didn't hit home until the veterans day assembly.
The spring prior, our Jazz Choir had sang New York Voices arrangement of I'll Be Seeing You. An emotional song from WWII, that always made me think of my grandparents. The day before the assembly, four of us were asked to sing the National Anthem. We agreed, practiced a little, and were ready to go. The morning of the assembly, we were then asked to sing I'll Be Seeing You. Since the majority of the group had graduated in June, it would only be 6 of us singing. I was petrified. I'd be on stage in front of the entire school singing a song with intricate minor harmonies and I hadn't sang it in 6 months. AAHHH! What were they thinking? They wanted me to be an integral part of this phenomenal and emotional assembly! But I sucked it up, we rehearsed and sat in the front row on the left hand side of the auditorium waiting for our turn.
There were clips from movies, letters from the civil war, stories of hope, the list goes on and on. And then the assembly took a turn to honor Don Brown. I will never forget where his parents were sitting, what they were wearing, what I was wearing, what the lighting was like, I won't forget any of it. As Donegan spoke about Don, I started to cry, as the majority of my classmates did. Since we had been a last minute addition we weren't in the program, but suddenly we got the high sign from our directior. It was our turn to go on stage, we would be singing as Dons photograph, in full uniform, would be projected onto the stage. As we walked on stage, I realized that the reason I was singing the song was no longer to serve the music and its integrity but to comfort those who were experiencing a loss larger than I will ever grasp. It was to use music to send the message that it would get better. It was to use the only thing I knew well, music, to say that I was sorry he was gone. It was, essentially, my first endeavor into music therapy. It wasn't about the quarter notes and half steps, it was about a family who was mouring. About a town who had lost a 19 year old boy to a war. It was about what it is to lose everything because you are proud of your country. And about how there were countless people who have, and will, feel the depth of pain of losing someone to war.
There is no recording from that day, but I am glad there isn't. I'm sure it wasn't technically phenomenal, but it was the most heartfelt it would ever be. I remember having the veterans sitting behind us on the stage, the flag hung in the back, the picture on the wall, and the sense of connection to something much bigger than myself. I haven't sang the song since then. It's preserved in time on the stage at Roxbury with my friends.
I didn't know Don Brown well. I hardly knew him at all, but I will remember the lesson he taught me. He changed my entire life. The way I looked at the world, what I wanted to do, who I wanted to be. I grew up a lot in the 40 seconds it took me to walk on to the stage at that assembly, all because he gave his life so I could.
Happy Veterans Day.
I'll Be Seeing You