by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
July 21, 2005
YOU HAVE TO SING
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- So there it was again, my summertime conundrum. How do I reconcile the lush beauty of the countryside and my rewarding life with the mayhem my country causes in the world and the danger we all face, every day, as a result of it?
Every summer, it seems, the puzzle rises up in my mind again. Last summer it came in my perennial garden as I tried to reconcile the beauty of the irises with the death toll in Iraq.
This time it came just before dusk at the Greenfield (Mass.) Balloon Festival. The great iconoclastic songwriter Steve Earle was performing on stage, and behind the audience, the balloons were firing up. Twelve brightly colored, perfectly formed upside-down teardrops were glowing, rising, drifting up to join the clouds.
"Ahhhh" went the audience.
But Earle did not recognize the moment. He didn't even sarcastically burst into a chorus of, "Do you want to ride in my beautiful balloon..." Instead, he started his introduction to "Rich Man's War."
"Many of the kids coming back from Iraq are coming back blind," he told us. "Their body armor doesn't protect their faces. We're going to have a whole generation of blind kids."
The balloons drifted gently above the tops of the trees as Earle launched into the chorus: "When will we ever learn/When will we ever see/We stand up and take our turn/And keep tellin' ourselves we're free."
The balloons were gently swaying in the sky as Earle started talking about the death penalty. "A country that didn't have the death penalty wouldn't have attacked Iraq in the first place," he said.
The balloons drifted north with the wind, heading over the Connecticut River. They were silent and breathtakingly beautiful. But those blind soldiers from Iraq wouldn't ever be able see them, would they?
Earle sings the truth about the gritty stuff, about injustice, about shooting heroin into his arm, about poor kids going off to fight rich men's wars.
And there I am, turning around and around in circles. That night, I was as enraptured by the balloons as I was enraptured by Earle. I knew everything he said was true, but how could I ignore the beauty of the evening? Balloons or heroin, beauty or truth, round and round, which one will it be?
I am abundantly aware that America is far from a classless society. It's a place where the rich are arrogantly rich, the middle class is running scared, and the poor are defiantly poor. As Earle reminds us, "Capitalism is perfectly fine as an economic system. Just not as a religion." For all of my country's wrongheadedness and injustices, however, most of us are leading relatively good lives. Food is abundant, we have cars and television sets and hair care products. We're not starving to death, or huddling in huts, afraid of the next rape or explosion. And we have music festivals where talented bands play beautiful, meaningful music while balloons rise up into the air like jewels and dangle off the clouds like earrings.
How do we reconcile day lilies and terrorism, kindness and bombs, sunlight and tsunamis? By working hard to fix what we can, I guess, while giving silent thanks for the blessings we are given along the way. The struggle itself, I think, may be the greatest blessing.
Earle, it seems, has also been thinking about the conundrum.
"Just because we're doing alright, we have to stay involved," he said. "Music changes everything, yes, but you will never stop a war by listening to music. You have to sing."
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about
culture, politics, economics and travel.