Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Travelin' Soldier

You don't ordinarily, in the course of things, grapple with existential questions, the really heavy ones, during an end-of-the-year school performance. But there was me today, sitting on the floor in the school lobby, listening to my daughter and her friends, and the whole second grade, sing "Travelin' Soldier," the tears escaping down my cheeks although I tried very hard to blink them away.

I felt an indescribable range of conflicting emotions, as I watched Hedgehog, who is emerging from the cocoon of childhood into an awareness of the world and her place in it, watched her sway to the music, singing with so much feeling in her little soprano voice, unself-consciously as only an 8-year-old can, about grown-up things, war and violence and desperate terror and  first love and loneliness:

Two days past eighteen
He was waiting for the bus in his army green
Sat down in a booth in a cafe there
Gave his order to a girl with a bow in her hair
He's a little shy so she gives him a smile
And he said would you mind sittin' down for a while
And talking to me,
I'm feeling a little low
She said I'm off in an hour and I know where we can go

So they went down and they sat on the pier
He said I bet you got a boyfriend but I don't care
I got no one to send a letter to
Would you mind if I sent one back here to you

I cried
Never gonna hold the hand of another guy
Too young for him they told her
Waitin' for the love of a travelin' soldier
Our love will never end
Waitin' for the soldier to come back again
Never more to be alone when the letter said
A soldier's coming home

So the letters came from an army camp
In California then Vietnam
And he told her of his heart
It might be love and all of the things he was so scared of
He said when it's getting kinda rough over here
I think of that day sittin' down at the pier
And I close my eyes and see your pretty smile
Don't worry but I won't be able to write for awhile

One Friday night at a football game
The Lord's Prayer said and the Anthem sang
A man said folks would you bow your heads
For a list of local Vietnam dead
Crying all alone under the stands
Was a piccolo player in the marching band
And one name read but nobody really cared
But a pretty little girl with a bow in her hair

I am not really a Dixie Chicks fan, they and I are politically an ocean apart and I admit to having been offended in the past, but some things pierce the protective armor of ideology, whether or not we want to let them in.  Give this a listen, and then imagine 60 8-year-olds singing it with sweet redemptive force:

*photo: "Vietnam 1969" by Bobster855 from Flickr Creative Commons


Brian Miller said...

interesting choice of song for a school. imagine amidst your tear you were beaming in side at who she is becoming. tough to see them grow, especially knowing the world we are leaving them and what they will be facing. maybe they will have better ideas to put with the ideals we gave them. smiles.

The Clever Pup said...

That's a pretty complex song for 8 year old's to sing. I'm surprised.

Funny you mentioned that despite the fact that you're not fond of the Dixie Chicks you still cried. At my son's school's 120th anniversary, a girl started the proceedings singing a song I equate with Sun Life insurance. I cried through the whole bloody performance.

Leah said...

Brian--I think it was an amazing song for them to choose. One of the many reasons, I am reminded today, that we chose to send Hedgie to this particular school. I hope dearly that Hedgie is able to maintain her sweetness and let go of the cynicism that I so often display...

Pup--it is very complex, but I really get the sense that on some level many of them understood it. They had been talking for many weeks, excitedly, about the song before they performed it for us. I also think it was a way for the school to acknowledge what is going on in the world all around us, although our children are protected from certain very harsh realities...

And, yes, I tend to weep during school performances even when the subject matter isn't overtly sad...lol

Karen ^..^ said...

I didn't watch the video, the lyrics themselves gave me chills though. Great post. As always.

MJ said...

I can't name a single Dixie Chicks song.

Don't make me start now!

savannah said...

thank you for a gentle reminder today, sugar. xoxo

Leah said...

Karen--yeah, I must say it's a great song, great lyrics!

savannah--you're welcome. I've been thinking about this a great deal lately. Today just sort of hammered it home...

MJ--you're in luck! The Dixie Chicks didn't write it!

PI said...

The little girls would have had me in bits.

Mr. Shife said...

I never heard that song before. I can easily see why it would bring up some emotions. I got teary-eyed just reading the lyrics. I am pretty sure I would have had to excuse myself from the room if I heard those little darlings singing that song.

Ronda Laveen said...

Sniff! Sniff! (dabs at eyes,blows in handkerchief)

Megan said...

I would have totally lost it, too.

Marianna said...

Thank you for Dixie Chicks, I like some songs of theirs! This has become one of them. Such a proud moment you had, may you treasure and remember it forever and always!


underOvr (aka The U) said...

Hi Leah,

Thirty-five years ago, my views on the US military were quite different than they are today. My Grandmother use to tell me, "Keep living, you'll see" (it turns out she was right; I was wrong).

Seeing young men and women in uniform brings forth a sobering reality as does the image of those captured, wounded or killed on the field of battle.

I still hate war but I love the warriors.

I think hearing the voices of children reminds those with a caring heart of the frailty of life. Although life is temporary, it is not without meaning and significance.

Please share a smile of gratitude with Sarge and darling daughter as a way of conveying my thanks for reminding me how good and valuable life is.


mapstew said...

How can I hope to better what my good friend 'The U' has said.

I hate war. And I believe religion has a lot to do with many wars. You don't have to agree with me.

I have another friend. He says all soldiers should be fabulous looking gay men!

"I can't shoot you, you're fucking gorgeous"!!

Auntie, aka Dog Girl said...

Mappy, what a funny comment you left!
Anyways, I hate to see young children grow up...the world is so harsh. But then again, when I was 8yrs. old (1967), my parents saw our country growing through chaotic growing pains...They probably felt the same way you feel right now...

Anonymous said...

No, I can not comment on this without becoming very cynic and off topic. So I just do not comment.
I just want to express my best wishes and best hopes for your daughter, and for any kid.

Leah said...

PI--bits! yes, bits I tell you! I'm still in bits.

Mr. Shife--you definitely would've cried. I just now played the song for Sarge, who missed the concert, and he was getting teared up.

Ronda--it was a two-handkerchief performance!

Megan--I know right?

Marianna--you know, it was a proud moment. I'm glad my daughter is sensitive and will know about the world around her!

U--I like what your grandma said. Of course she was right, most grandmas are! lol.

It's interesting how one's perspective changes.

I like what you said about the children's voices reminding us of the "frailty of life." That's so exactly it.

map--I don't think anyone loves war, except maybe Achilles, and his were the stuff of epic poetry! And don't worry, you can always say what you think here. Well, within reason, LOL!

Your friend has a funny concept going there.

Auntie--gosh, it's weird to think of me and Sarge sharing a perspective with our parents and grandparents...things have come around full circle...

mago--well, I'm a complete cynic too! But perhaps not in the same way that you are...

Madame DeFarge said...

This song is new to me, possibly being rather less well known in the UK. It must have been very moving to see this sung by such innocent children, on the cusp of discovering the 'joys' of the world.

Baino said...

Very brave of the school to go down that road and very honourable. I actually get a bit pissed off that teens today don't give a shit about what's going on. Uni students even more so, have forgotten the art of protesting because they're too busy head down and bums up. Great song, I'm with you, not keen on country Dixie Chick stuff but I actually like the girls for taking a stand on a few issues.

Suzanne said...

I haven't read another comment, but will come back. I AM a HUGE Dixie Chic fan, unlike you. Huge. And this song is so precious and beautiful. I can almost see Heggie singing. You go darling! Come over here and sit near Aunt Suzie and let's share a coffee. She can drink coffee, right?

It's so nice to see you growing up. You are. Right? Good, cuz I don't have all my life to wait.


P.S. You know what I realize honey? We're SO, SO different, but we love one another so very much. I love you.

Suzanne said...

That's not the best video. I'll give you the best as soon as I locate it. It'll blow you away.

Suzanne said...

They sing it live. Trust me. It's good.

Suzanne said...

I found it and posted. Please bring Heggie. It really is beautiful.

XO Love you darling. Hope you're okay.

Suzanne said...

Hey baby, you may not agree politically with the Dixie Chicks, but Heggie might. You know me. I always believe parents should let go and allow their child to become who he/she is supposed to be. You never know what that act of kindness might do. She's such a smart kid. She'll know.

I love you so. XO

Leah said...

Mme. DeF--I guess the song and its surround is quintessentially American (for good and ill!) so it makes sense that it wouldn't be as popular. But the bigger themes are universal, I suppose...

Baino--I agree, young folks in general are unaware of these issues. Sometimes I wonder whether they even know if there's a war going on, some of them, as it doesn't impact us in a day-to-day way that's apparent.

I actually adore country music, it's the Dixie Chicks' politics that I objected to. I just have to try and forget that it's them singing the song! hm...

Suzy--I hope Hedgie doesn't part ways with us politically--I do believe that she is lucky to grow up in what is actually an unusually free-thinking household. If she came of age and left this house without the values that Sarge and I treasure, well, I'd be terribly disappointed. Our politics aren't so specific that we expect her to tow a party line--but that's just it--I'd be devastated if I thought she was towing a party line. It's all about free thinking! When I went to college, I was shocked to find a liberal atmosphere that brooked no argument. I don't want Hedgehog to join in with that just because it's the easier way to do things, like taking the path of least resistance.

Sarge and I have never taken the path of least resistance, and it has been a rocky road. We are raising Hedgehog to care about our military, to love America, to love God, and also to love learning, questioning, thinking for herself, demanding answers to the impossible, thinking critically.

I would never want her to lose any of that.

Leah said...

Suzy--p.s., Sarge and I just got through discussing this topic--I feel a post coming on!

Leah said...

I realized that I'm contradicting myself a little. It is absolute relativism to which I object; I feel we have given Hedgie some truths to hang onto and I want her to do so.

I also want her to think critically, but not to the exclusion of some heartfelt truths, see above.

I do not ever want her to feel embarrassed about keeping God and Country close to her heart, and to know that she can be a thoughtful, intelligent person who does this!

Leah said...

This topic is obviously very important to me! (not the topic of the post, but the topic of what we have given Hedgehog and what we want her to keep)

Leah said...

And just for the record, when I mention God and Country in the same breath, it's not because I don't believe staunchly in separation of church and state. We just happen to be patriotic Americans who love our country (although we can question it) and who believe in God (although we can question Him whenever we feel like it too). I don't want to muddy the waters here, the two things are not a package deal. Just clarifying.

I don't think anyone is reading this, but I just had to get some thoughts off my chest...

muralimanohar said...

Eh..I read it all..and agree 100%. :p

The Dixie Chicks, while they pissed me off, I still like some of their music. This song, I had to delete off my playlist, though. Kept crying everytime it came on.