“We are the world, we are the children, we are the ones to make a better day, so let’s start giving…there’s a choice we’re making, we’re saving our own lives, it’s true we make a better day just you and me.”
I’ve been able to sing that chorus and the song it came from by heart since I was 10 years old and the original version came out–1985, US Aid for Africa, Willie Nelson and Lionel Richie and their peers all sharing a microphone. I was, then, the same age my daughter is now. And last Saturday, I watched, heart bursting, as she and 50 peers sang the 25th anniversary version featuring Wyclef Jean at a local street festival.
Along with the other parents in attendance, I’d just seen them rehearse it at their school, located a couple blocks down from the festival, their excellent vocal teacher doing her best to inspire them to the greatness she knows is in them. It took them about a third of a way through the song to really get into it, but man, when they did–it was full throttle, no holding back, sweet voices ready to tell the world, “We are the ones….” They sang with their entire bodies, swaying back and forth, some of them with eyes closed, smiles cracking their faces wide open and enough joy and hope in their notes to bring the mightiest of cynics to his or her knees.
By the time they were done, I was in tears. And as I tried to wipe those tears away discreetly, without drawing attention to myself, I realized, the dad next to me was in the same boat, him using the edge of his long-sleeved shirt to wipe away his own tears. Our eyes locked and I said, “Whoa.” He grinned through his tears and said, “Yea.” I told him that maybe my faith in humanity had been restored and he said “I wish we could just trust them to do it. And not get in their way. They are our future.”
And then two seats down in the rehearsal room, another mom and dad, her reaching for the Kleenex box on a nearby bookshelf which we then all passed around, the four of us struck with the truth our children had just sung and overwhelmed with the goodness of it. The four of us could not–in dress, in skin color, in general appearance–have been more different. But those differences mattered not one wit as we let the beauty of what our children had just done soak in.
This is the thing about music. Poetry. Film. Theater. Dance. It reminds us of that which is good, and bigger than whatever fresh new hell any given day has brought us. It reminds us that we were made for relationship…for love.
Music speaks across all boundaries, and I imagine the people attending that music festival in Las Vegas Sunday night knew just what I mean by that. My heartbreak over what happened at that festival, and how such things bring out both the worst and best of us as a nation, is, still, this morning, palpable, and I have no words to really describe the ache I feel over such horror.
But I also know this–on our way to drop the girl at school this morning, she and I were listening to our favorite local country radio station. And one of the morning DJ’s, she has a cousin who there in Vegas Sunday night, and she shared that her cousin has said this since surviving the horror (I’m paraphrasing, so won’t use quotes)–that as people ran, and as they helped each other out of harm’s way and tried to assist the injured, no one cared about the politics of whoever needed saving. No one paid attention to color, ethnicity, gender, religion or anything else. It was just people helping people, being everyday heroes, recognizing they were all in it together and had to survive together.
Why the absolute hell does it take tragedy and trauma for us to see how much we need each other? I will never understand this.
But I do know this–I care more about you as a human being than I do your politics. Or your religion. Or your skin color. Or anything else. I care more about YOU, as a human being, than I do your opinions. Even if I vehemently disagree with you and even if I speak out against what you believe. Even still–I care more about YOU.
Those parents and me, watching our kids sing, and overwhelmed with the beauty of it, did not care where any of us had come from that morning–we just knew we’d experienced something gorgeous and real together, and wanted to hold on to it. The truth is that none of us had ever spoken to each other–I don’t even know their names or which kid is theirs. But we cried together y’all. Do you know how vulnerable that is?
This is the kind of connection we were made for, as human beings, and the kind that we have to fight tooth and nail to hold on to in this particular day and time. Because with out it, we are entirely doomed.
I despise conflict. Mostly because I believe that the vast majority of conflict is really rooted in grief, and it’s much more effective to deal with the grief than it is the argument. And I believe that, these days, we are living in a grief-stricken nation. And it is no one person or party or president’s fault. What the root of all the grief is, I’ve no real clue, but I suspect the heart of it lies in our own isolation and fracturedness as human beings. Whatever walls we’ve constructed out of race or politics or religion have not only blocked us off from each other, they’ve blocked us off from ourselves and what it means to fully embrace the relationships with others that we were created for.
My daughter and her peers understand the need to love and support one another. They get it. They’ve no time for hate, they’re too busy doing life together. And in them is my very best hope, even in the midst of pain and chaos.
“We are the world,” they sang.
It would be in our best interest, and perhaps our great salvation, to join them in their singing.