Sue-z and I are both (for our sins I presume) now referred to in musical circles as, "old folkies." This of course presumes two things, we are old (yup)and we are folk music singers (both) and players (mostly me.) So what does a couple of old folkies do on Mother's Day Weekend? We leave the kids and grand-kids at home, and drive all the way down to the Cumberland Gap National Park where there is a dulcimer (my principal instrument) music festival. For two days and two amazing nights, we sing, we listen, I play, and we attend "workshops" offered by some amazing players.
We had a blast. It is hard to think of more welcoming people than musicians. If you show up carrying the tools, and they have been taken care of, you are invited to sit down, tune up, and join. Everywhere in my experience, except perhaps the world of professional symphonic music, this rule holds. Especially among dulcimer players, often ignored by the self appointed experts, the camaraderie is almost instant.
For two days and nights, we did not know what the world was doing, did not know the latest politician's latest scandal. For two days we were simply friends making music, progressives, conservatives, Christians, Buddhists, Agnostics,and probably a couple other faith communities: we were there for the love of the music.
We are for sure going back next year.
And yet, on the way home, as I slowly let the, "real world," such as it is and what there is of it, back into my view, I almost felt guilty. On Facebook, a post from a friend thanking the children of our parish for the letters he received - in Afghanistan. On Twitter a note that a young friend and his wife are expecting. He is on active duty, there is no assurance he will be in country when she delivers. Here I am enjoying the freedom to play and sing, while they are risking lives.
Can we ever properly thank the warriors who protect us? Does it matter? I doubt they do it for our gratitude.
Still we can try. From time to time I will see another old guy, someone my age perhaps, wearing a cap identifying the unit in which he fought in our many too many wars, or the ship on which he was a keel plate owner, or one of the increasingly few "Tuskegee Airmen" who flew for a country that discriminated against them. I make a point to stop and say thanks. They are often a bit surprised, and perhaps embarrassed, then they smile and say I am welcome.
Really, I am? I was not born when many of them fought. I sang protest songs against our war in Vietnam (not against the soldiers, but against the government) but none-the-less. I too am welcome. Perhaps that is what this silly experiment in freedom some are so determined to toss aside seeking security, is about.
Is a simple thanks enough? No. We can do more, by demanding that politicians keep the promises of the GI Bills, and by seeing to it that those harmed in service get needed care. We can do more.
We can make sure the country does not ever go to war when any alternative is even remotely possible. Americans have gotten sloppy about that. We have let politicians go into Afghanistan and Iraq, bombard Libya, and if we listen to the wrong voices we will do it again in Syria.
Our warriors, these women and men prepared to fight and die do not ask a lot. But we owe them. We owe them being sure that we never spend their lives stupidly, or unnecessarily.
I am not a pacifist. Sometimes, no matter how reasonable, no matter how decent, we may think we are, there are those who will attack us. That is not an American thing, it is a human thing. It is no less true for anyone in any country.
Sometimes a country simply must defend itself or cease to exist. That is part of the terrible price we pay for our humanity. Sometimes, as for instance in the case of the Shoah, we simply must stop something evil. Those times are rare. If we are honest, we know we send our warriors into much more danger than those times justify.
We all, protected by warriors, owe them our best efforts at conflict resolution. We who live in free lands owe more. We can make the government listen. Try that in Syria, or prewar Germany!
All of that came from two days of freedom. I think we will be gone longer next time. That is why we follow the music -- there is power in the songs, power in the dance!