I went into town to run some errands, and took the back route, as I always do, but then when I reached the library I heard a band playing. I realized that today is Memorial Day. A parade! I shut off my headphones and went over to Main Street to check out the fun. A high school band was just passing. I didn’t catch which high school it was, but it didn’t matter, because just seeing the teens–the baton twirlers, the flutes and piccolos up front, the clarinets, the brass, the percussion complete with bass drums–how exciting!
Yet I found myself weeping, hiding behind my wide-brimmed hat so that the others in the crowd would not witness my tears. The high school band, the hubbub of the parade, the marchers, the pageantry, the veterans, the Cub Scouts–I was at once awed and overwhelmed with grief. My memories of parades are bittersweet. Certainly, most children feel joy as they witness a parade. How could a child not feel this way? But I recall in my teen years grueling marching practices, endless rehearsals, fatigue, and the feeling that I was never good enough. I remember the band director yelling at me for mistakes I didn’t make. I remember being overheated in my uniform. And I remember the cruelty of my best friend, who enslaved me.
And so I wept. I wept for the kid in that high school band who practiced and practiced and never made it to first chair. I wept for the kid who was teased. I wept for the kid who always had to sit at the back of the bus. I wept for the kid who had cancer. I wept for the athletes: winners and losers both. I wept for the druggies, the outcasts, the nerds, the geeks, the freaks, and the girls that got pregnant and had to drop out. I wept for the kids who went crazy in high school and had to be hospitalized and lost all their friends and their self esteem. I wept for the straight-A students, who felt they had to live up to others’ expectations, instead of their own. And somewhere in there, I wept for myself.
I stepped into the store and made my purchases, then I traveled through the parking lot, over to the playing field. In the nearby park, a crowd had gathered, and someone was giving a speech over a loudspeaker. I couldn’t make out the words. I sat and listened from afar. A trumpeter played Taps. That was my instrument: trumpet. I never played Taps at a parade because there was always someone better than me that got to play it. I knew the instrument was a trumpet, not a bugle, and I knew that a lucky kid in the high school band was playing.
Next, guns fired. Silence. Then bagpipes played the song I only know as Amazing Grace, though there are other words to the song, and then the bagpipes played another bagpipe song, but I forget now what it was. The entire high school percussion section joined in. I knew this because of the immensity of the rhythm. The solemnity of Taps had faded, and was now replaced by joy. After the bagpipes finished, the crowd dispersed.
I trekked home. What had started as a brief trip to the store had turned into a melting pot of thought and memory for me. The brightness of sound and pageantry seemed like too much. I let myself into my apartment, greeted the dog, and unpacked my bag. Somehow, I needed a release–what better way to let out my emotions than to write about my experience. And so, I sat at the computer, and began a new blog entry.
Happy Memorial Day.