A Moment to Remember

The moment had finally come.

The last shot … blocked. The last second … elapsed. At last the long wait was over. The Denver Nuggets would walk off the floor for the first time as Western Conference Champions, punching their first-ever ticket to the NBA Finals.

It was time for the nation to see Denver’s joy, to see the excitement, to see … two long minutes of LeBron James heading for the Lakers locker room in defeat?

Sigh. Sometimes even when you win, you can’t win.

I shouldn’t be surprised. As a nation – maybe even as a species – we’re not that good at focusing our attention where it belongs.

After all, look at our current holiday.

We often get caught up in the trappings of a holiday and Memorial Day is no exception. In fact, with Memorial Day, we get layers upon layers of misunderstanding and distraction. An alien looking at our practices and reading our subconscious minds might conclude that the day is:

  • “The first day of summer! Ok, that’s really in June, but still …”
  • “A chance to pull out the new grill and show Jake and Mary how you really cook a steak!”
  • “The first three-day weekend we’ve had in way too long. Woohoo!”
  • “Uh … something about thanking soldiers for their service. Right?”

None of them hit the bullseye. Even that last one. Not that it’s ever inappropriate, but if you want to tie that “thank you” to an actual holiday, Veterans Day in November is the one you’re looking for.

Memorial Day is … well, what it says. The pause to remember. The moment of honor for the defenders no longer here. It’s not the passing parade but the sudden silence.

And as such, it draws on a whole bunch of qualities that we’re really not that good at.

A moment to pause? These days, our world insists that every moment be filled, leaving no time to think about anything except what’s right in front of you.

Remembering the dead? So many of us go out of our way to avoid thinking about death at all, like a student who thinks graduation is an elective and that they can stay in school forever.

Silence? Every moment of our lives seems to have a soundtrack. Stillness is something foreign, a state that has to be sought out … if we even remember it exists at all.

In short, Memorial Day forces us to make a lot of choices that don’t come naturally to us. To break out of our expectations. To see and be, not just react.

There’s nothing wrong with the rest of it. I like a good steak, too, after all. But if we focus on the fun and forget the core, we’ve missed the point as surely as any ESPN announcer.

That’s not where any of us should want to be.

So this year, take a moment to hold up those who can no longer hear our thanks. The ones who never came marching home again.

Remember to stop. Be still. Reflect.

Our choice costs nothing. Theirs cost everything.

The moment has come. And we’ve seen how grating it can be when a champion is ignored.

So take some time now to give our own champions their due.

Sound Off

There are a lot of wrongs to rail at in this world. Hunger. Injustice. The continued existence of the Oakland Raiders.

And since all those are taken, I’m going to snark about the Tony awards instead.

At least, I will if this microphone is working. No guarantee, that.

The Tonys, you see, decided that next year there would be no awards for sound design. Now, don’t everyone riot at once. I know, most of you stay up into the wee hours to see if this will finally be the year for … well, whatshisname. And the other one, too. The one with the hair.

Ok. I’ll admit it. To the general public – even the general theatre-going public – sound designers have all the renown of congressional interns. Unless there’s a scandal, you’re not likely to ever learn their names. And even then, it would have to be one heck of a scandal. (“Imported mayonnaise? Oh, dear.”)

But when you think about it, that’s exactly the point.

The anonymity, that is. Not the mayonnaise. Stay with me here.

When I was a kid, my parents took me to a lot of movies. And at every single one, we stayed until the final credit had rolled across the screen. Dad’s mom had worked in a behind-the-scenes job for one of the studios, you see, so he knew how important those miniature letters zooming past at high speed were.

Always stay, he told me. Always honor the work. For many of these people, it may be the only recognition they ever get.

That stayed with me. Even during the Lord of the Rings films, where half the New Zealand phone book had to roll by before we could leave.

Always honor the work.

It’s easy to cheer the actors. We see them, we hear them, we feel like we know them. And directors are not without honor. We know who’s (officially) in charge, whose name is tied to the success or failure of a production.

But there’s a whole invisible world in theatre that most audiences never consciously notice. Costumers. Light and sound designers. Stage managers. Prop masters. People in the shadows who, arguably, are more important to the success of a show than the cast. Anyone who’s worked in community theatre will tell you that finding performers is easy compared to finding capable backstage crew.

They rarely get bows. They rarely get recognized. But the work of the best can sink into your soul.

And that’s not a story only belonging to theatre. In most walks of life, there are people who serve as a living foundation – all but invisible to a casual glance but vital to keep things standing.

When we do notice, it’s usually because of a crisis. Think back to the flood. Sure, we saw a lot of cops and firefighters, the heroes we justly cheer every day. But we also noticed the folks who build the roads, who fix the water lines, who haul away the trash. (Actually, judging by the reaction to the neighborhood roll-offs, the trash haulers may have been the most popular people on the block!)

The foundation had been exposed. And it held.

And it’ll keep holding long after the spotlight has burned out.

If those people don’t deserve a moment of recognition, nobody does.

So to the ladies and gentlemen of the Tony Awards committee, I offer one word: reconsider. Sure, you might save five minutes on an already overlong night of glitz and glamour. But think of what you’re turning your back on to do it.

Honor the work.

Let it be heard.

Time For a Good Man

Missy’s had a new friend hanging around the house lately.

She met him at Kohl’s and it was love at first sight. Now he seems to go everywhere with her. He’s even sat in our evening story times, and since he’s the quiet-spoken sort, it doesn’t disrupt anything. Besides, I love his shirt.

Yep. It’s easily the cutest Charlie Brown doll I have ever seen.

I’m not quite sure why Missy latched on to ol’ Chuck. I suspect the small size and bald head give it a “baby” appearance to her and she’s always been fascinated by babies. When our now-3-year-old niece Riley visits, there’s been several times when the toddler girl and the developmentally-disabled woman seem to have a perfect understanding of each other. Before the fights over the Legos begin, anyway.

But whatever the reason, I’m glad to have him around. Charlie Brown has always been a favorite of mine, the unlikeliest American celebrity of all.

Think about it.

America celebrates winners. Charlie Brown has never kicked a football, won a baseball game or flown a kite without disaster.

America encourages busyness, even hyperactivity. Charlie Brown always has time to lean on a brick wall and talk with a friend.

America urges people to get more, bigger, brighter, better. Charlie Brown rolls his eyes at over-decorated doghouses and aluminum Christmas trees, and picks out a scrawny branch that needs a little love.

He’s not a success. What’s more, he knows it. When he asks into the silent night “Why me?”, the answer he hears is “Nothing personal … your name just happened to come up.”

And yet, if you were to set him alongside most of the nation’s leaders right now – maybe all of them – the little round-headed kid with the rickrack shirt would be the first choice in a heartbeat.

Good grief!

OK, that’s not quite a fair comparison. After all, many things are outpolling the Congress right now, including the IRS, venereal disease and possibly the Oakland Raiders, though that’s stooping a bit low. But still, there’s something about the ol’ blockhead.

Sure, he dodges confrontations and hides from the little red-haired girl. Yes, he gets depressed and frustrated. And everyone knows he was overshadowed by his dog long ago in almost every possible area of accomplishment.

But … well … he’s decent. Courteous. Fair, even when it costs him. He sticks by his friends, even giving up a Little League sponsorship when it means the girls and Snoopy would have to leave the team.

He’s the guy you’d never put in the Hall of Fame – but you’d love to put him in the house next door.

He’s humble.

And I think we’ve lost some of that.

Oh, not at the local level. Not entirely. If anything proved that, the flood did, with good neighbors lining up to work in the muck and mud to help someone else. No pride on the line, just an awareness of someone else’s need.

But at the national level, where expensive temper tantrums can erupt for weeks and change nothing by the end … well, wouldn’t it be nice, once in a while, to have folks who were less sure of themselves?

I’m not arguing that confidence is a bad thing. But it’s not the only thing, either. When Rome celebrated its heroes with a triumphal procession, someone was always assigned to whisper in the hero’s ear “Remember, you, too are mortal.” Humility, in the midst of pride.

Even one of the most self-assured dictators of history, Oliver Cromwell, recognized the need. In a 1560 letter to the Church of Scotland, he wrote “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, consider that you may be mistaken.”

That doesn’t fit modern Washington, where you never apologize (except when caught in an affair), never back down, never admit the other guy might have a point.

And, lately, never get any work done.

Maybe that’s something to remember next year, come November. The confident men and women with all the answers make attractive candidates – but the less certain ones, the ones willing to ask questions, even of themselves, may make better leaders.

And it doesn’t have to be a costly experience.

I even know one guy who did it for Peanuts.

No Room

When the planes struck, the call came. Some of our finest responded.
It’s been 10 years. This time, the call isn’t coming.
And that is a shame beyond words.
I’m sure you’ve heard the news by now. You’d almost have to have been a mile beneath Ground Zero to have missed it. On Sept. 11, New York City is holding a ceremony to remember THE Sept. 11. Political leaders will be there. The family of those killed will be there.
The firefighters and other first responders who came to the Towers won’t be. Not enough room.
At the moment, my indignation is mixed with a reluctant nod toward the logistics of the situation. On the day the Towers fell and in the days that followed, for example, there were 91,000 emergency workers on the site from across the country. Never mind the others who could reasonably claim a right to be there, such as the family of those who survived 9/11 – who also haven’t been invited, by the way; they’re on standby in case someone cancels.
If everyone who had been touched by 9/11 came to the ceremony, New York State wouldn’t be big enough to hold them all. Never mind New York City.
But at the same time, it is a shame.
If ever there was a moment when this nation came together, it was Sept. 11, 2011. It was when firefighters and police became national heroes, when politicians could briefly join hands instead of put up fists, when you could look at your neighbor across the street and say the mantra usually reserved for Thanksgiving: “Maybe we don’t agree on everything, but we’re still family.”
To reduce all that to a squabble over who can or can’t be in the crowd on the day seems silly. Even embarrassing.
A compromise, perhaps, could have worked. I think in our hearts, everyone knows everyone can’t go. The space in our hearts for that day is endless; the space on the ground is starkly limited.
But on a day of symbols, why not a few more?
Why not, say, 100 New York first responders from that day? Why not choose two each from every other state across the country, representing all those who lent a hand in a dark hour? Why not do the same with the families of the survivors, and all the others you can think of – a symbolic number to represent the many, many behind them, united with those who had lost so much?
The actual names could have been chosen by lot. There’d still be some grumbling, sure – we didn’t stop being human on 9/11 – but it wouldn’t be the deep resentment of a just honor denied.
Too late now, I know. Maybe something to consider for the 15th or the 20th.
For now, maybe it’s just enough to try to get some of that old spirit back. To recall that wherever we were, the attacks touched us, that wherever we are, we can remember.
Remember those who fell.
Remember those who lived.
Remember that out of many, we are still one.
I hope, in the end, we can all find room for that.