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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Memory Lane and the Reconciliation with Time


Copyright ©2013 by Ralph F. Couey
except quoted and cited portions.
 
There are moments in life that can be either dreaded or anticipated. Or both.  Next week, I will travel cross-country to revisit those three years encompassed by the words "high school."
 
I (along with some 350 others) graduated on a humid May night in 1973.  Yes, I can count.  That's 40 years.  I told one of my co-workers where I was bound.  He whistled and exclaimed, "You've been out of high school longer than I've been alive!"
 
Like I needed to hear that.
 
It's a common thing to compare the past to day in economic terms.  In 1973, the average American income was $12,900.  Out of that, people still managed to afford the average-priced home at $32,900. One of the hottest cars was the AMC Javelin, priced at $2,999, which swallowed 40-cent-per-gallon gasoline at a precipitous rate.  That, of course, changed in October when OPEC embargoed all crude oil going to countries that supported Israel. 
 
The Yom Kippur War, the fourth and largest of the Arab-Israeli wars, was fought.  Unfortunately for the Arabs, Israel won again.  Richard Nixon was inaugurated for his second term, but throughout the year saw his administration, his reputation, and his legacy trashed through the Watergate scandal.  He would resign the Presidency in 1974.  Lyndon Johnson, Nixon's predecessor, died in Texas.  Abortion became legal by the Supreme Court's ruling on Roe vs. Wade.  Members of the American Indian Movement seized the South Dakota town of Wounded Knee and held it captive for two months.
 
The Miami Dolphins capped a perfect season by defeating the Washington Redskins in Superbowl VII.
 
And in an event that provided a breath of relief for all draft-eligible young men, U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War ended with the signing of the Paris Peace Accords.
 
But perhaps the event that carries the most resonance for us was the opening in New York of the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
 
The counter-culture of the 60s had given way to the disco and self-indulgence of the 70s.  Hair that once grew long and unbrushed became tightly styled.  Free and easy styles had become skin-tight shirts and bell-bottom pants over platform shoes.
 
But even though we were in the 70s, we still considered ourselves children of Woodstock.  And the difference for us between those two decades, was the loss of that sense of purpose we had enjoyed.  Vietnam and all that it represented had given youth their voice, their passion.  It was a voice that was loud, strident, and in the end, effective.
 
But with the treaty signing and the end of the draft, Americans were done with the rest of the world.  Like the decade after World War I, we retreated within ourselves.
 
In 1987, a song written and performed by the late Harry Chapin was released on an album of the same name.  As much as any song ever written, "Remember When the Music" lives as the epitaph of the protest generation.
 
"Remember when the music
Came from wooden boxes strung with silver wires
And as we sang the words, it would set our minds on fire
For we believed in things, and so we'd sing"
 
Music gave us our voice.  The lyrics articulated the caused of peace and justice which we embraced.  Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary, and others provided the soundtrack and the drumbeat to which we all marched.
 
"Remember when the music
Brought us all together to stand inside the rain
And as we'd join our hands, we'd meet in the refrain
For we had dreams to live; we had hopes to give"
 
Music was the unifying element through which we could all celebrate.  There were so many protests where we stood in all manner of bad weather, hands held, and hearts united.  In that idealistic expression, we were articulating our dream.  We were sharing our hopes.
 
"Remember when the music
Was the best of what we dreamed of for our children's times
And as we sang we worked, for time was just a line
It was a gift we saved; a gift the future gave.
 
Even though the protests were mostly about the war, we were also concerned with the future.  We wanted to world to change for the better, to something that would give that hope to future generations.
 
"Remember when the music
was a rock that we could cling to so we'd not despair
And as we sang we knew we'd hear an echo fill the air
We'd be smiling then, we would smile again"
 
It was an uphill fight, one that promised setbacks and disappointments.  But music gave us new life, new hope.  We knew we were not alone because as we sang, others were joining in.
 
"Oh all the times I've listened, and all the times I've heard
All the melodies I'm missing, and all the magic words
And all the potent voices, and the choices we had then
How I'd love to find we had that kind of choice again"
 
In the decades since, we have looked back knowing that the future had been in our hands.  We honestly felt we could change the world.  We could determine a destiny for ourselves, for our country, for the world.  But the future is no longer ours to control.  How we wish we could have the power of the belief once again.
 
"Remember when the music
Was a glow on the horizon of every newborn day
And as we sang, the sun came up to chase the dark away
And life was good, for we knew we could
 
Remember when the music
Brought the night across the valley as the day went down
And as we'd hum the melody, we'd be safe inside the sound
And so we'd sleep; we had dreams to keep.
 
Every morning brought opportunity; a chance to change people's hearts, and through that, the world.  And when the sun went down, we gathered; we talked; we sang.  We dreamed.
 
"Remember when the music
Came from wooden boxes strung with silver wire
And as we sang the words, it would set our minds on fire
For we believed in things; and so we'd sing
And so we'd sing."
 
In the forty years since graduation, the world has changed in more ways than we could have possibly imagined.  But over that time, I've missed my friends, and the good times we had.
 
I have missed the times; the feeling that there was nothing we couldn't accomplish.  I miss the feeling that life had no limits, and all possibilities were possible.
 
Mostly though, I miss believing in things.



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