It can stop me in my tracks, still. Walking from my car to my front door yesterday, it happened. I live close enough to the practice fields of the UH Mānoa athletic teams that I can hear what’s going on over there. And this week, the banging blare of the marching band practicing for Saturday’s football game punctuates my activities around the house. I spread peanut butter to the trill of the piccolo. I blend smoothies to the loud churn of the snare drum roll. And at times I’m compelled to pause, if only for a moment.
Yesterday afternoon I stopped home briefly after being at church to get ready to get in the water with a friend. And as I hit the sidewalk in front of my house, I paused briefly out of habit and let the tune come to an end. The marching band was practicing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” And though there was no one watching me, though I was far from a stadium or a classroom, my body responded by stopping what I was doing for the remaining moments of the song. I laughed a little at myself and continued inside.
When I heard my friend’s car pull up, I met him in the driveway. The band on the field nearby was into another practice run of the tune, and I laughed and scolded my friend for having his hat on his head. He laughed, too. And he told me about being stationed in the army where they played the anthem everyday at a set time. He said that soldiers would stop what they were doing two minutes before to get indoors before it played so that they wouldn’t have to stop and salute. We joked a little about what would happen if a band were practicing nearby over and over. They wouldn’t get anything done—they’d be too busy saluting.
And I get the pausing, the stopping in place, because that’s exactly what I did, too. However the programming happened—literally to give me pause—it’s there. And however I feel about what is done, however I feel about what is perpetrated in the practice of a national religion called “America,” I still stop. And when I do, what I think of are people whose lives were, are, and will be sacrificed in the name of this faith, whether in fighting nobly for the freedom of others, or for their own. I pause for them all.
But a pause is only natural when faced with a question…or two. See, the original lyrics of “The Star-Spangled Banner” we sing are just that: two questions. The first question asks whether you can see the banner still. The second question asks whether it waves over the land of the free and the home of the brave. And the ubiquity, the sheer pause-inspiring presence of it in our lives, requires, maybe commands us, to ask not whether it yet waves, but whether we are yet brave enough to make all who pause in its shadow free. Or whether we are standing still, saluting.
May we each find our own answer to these two questions.
Rev. T. J.
Francis Scott Key’s original lyrics are here: https://amhistory.si.edu/starspangledbanner/pdf/ssb_lyrics.pdf