February 6, 2009 at 7:18am
My husband retired in the summer of 2007 after serving in the Air Force for 20 years. One short year later, in the course of government cutbacks and Air Force restructuring, it was determined that the 330th Pacesetters (the last squadron he was a part of) would be shut down. As a part of the grand decommissioning ceremony, all retirees that had served in the 330th at any point in their lives were invited to attend. The colonel in charge of the event asked if I would be willing to sing the national anthem for the awards banquet on Friday night of this three-day affair. Deeply honored, I agreed.
The national anthem is special to me, and I believe it should be sung as it was written. It irks me to hear celebrities distort the tune – and sometimes even the words! – to show off their vast range and skill. In my opinion this takes away from the glory of the song itself and brings too much attention to the singer. The singer that delivers the song with a heartfelt passion is the one that touches me the most. Give me sincerity over skill any day.
It has always been my intent to try to capture that moment that Francis Scott Key must have experienced when he wrote the words to the Star Spangled Banner. All the angst, the pain and suffering, as well as the glorious relief and absolute thrill of that moment in time should come through in this song. To raise a chill or inspire a tear from the audience is the greatest applause of all for the singer whose focus is the meaning of this song and all that it represents.
In the evening right before the banquet, I was in the lobby of the hotel laughing and chatting with long-lost friends instead of preparing myself as I normally would before a performance. We filed into the banquet hall at the proper time, and my husband and I took our seats. I began to look around at the women in their beautiful splendor, all perfectly coiffed and elegantly dressed and realized how inadequate I looked. My long hair was wildly curly and boasting gray roots. My discount-rack dress was too large for my overweight body. My glasses were out of style. I wasn’t a showpiece to be proud of, but unattractive and painfully aware.
Everyone in the room stood at silent attention while the flags were carried through the crowd. Old Glory was tipped forward, marking my cue, and from my place behind the podium I began to sing. My voice was shaky with insecurity and shame, and I delivered the first two lines of the song with such timidity they were barely more than a whisper. I closed my eyes and gripped the podium with white-knuckled strain. My mind’s eye envisioned the smoke wafting over the now silent battlefield. I could see the morning light casting the day’s first shadows as it peeked over the horizon. Standing above it all – all the death and destruction, the defeat and victory – I could see a tattered flag waving brilliantly in the cool breeze. At that moment, my outward appearance lost all significance – I began to sing tribute to lives lost and freedoms saved, and the wonderful God that leads and loves us.
The applause of sniffles, tear-stained cheeks and nodding heads greeted me when I finally opened my eyes and watched our beautiful flag being carried back through the crowd and out of the room. The emotional display on the faces of those in the audience was worth more to me than a million beauty awards. With this grand and silent applause came the significant reminder that for me, vanity is wasteful and distracting; my purpose in this life, not unlike our flag, is to serve and encourage all.
© Maria R. Conklin and Journey Of A Tired Heart, 2015-2016