Wednesday, July 4, 2012

American Anthem by Norah Jones

On this Independence Day, the first thing that came to mind was Norah Jones. Let me explain:

The last couple years I’ve begun watching more documentaries. I love the American Experience series, which shares many writers and producers with the documentary work of Ken Burns.

One of the things that contribute to a great documentary is the use of music. Ken Burns clearly understanding this using period music in artful and deliberate ways, however sometimes he includes music that is not from the period to great effect.

In Ken Burn’s epic Civil War documentary, an original song “Ashokan Farewell,” accompanied the reading of a letter of Sullivan Ballou (which I discussed in this earlier post). This is one of those “if you don’t cry when you watch this, you must be a Cylon” moments.

Burns did a similar thing again using a Norah Jones song as part of his World War II documentary The War.

Burn’s juxtaposes Jones’ gentle and sincere voice against images from World War II. These are images of terror, bravery, triumph and tragedy. There’s American fighting in unimaginable situations pushing aside their survival instincts and logic to fight for the idea, the dream, and the hope that is America.

As Jones sings “I gave my best to you,” we see a soldier who was killed in battle half buried in sand. He gave more than his best, he gave his everything. Watching this video is a celebration and a tribute to people who fought for our freedom but it’s also a question to all of us whether we give our best to America.

Today we celebrate our independence and the creation of our country. These are two incredible gifts we’ve been given that most of us have done nothing to earn. Did I do any work to have the freedoms I enjoy? No.

There are still many Americans who fight in the military to preserve our freedoms but most people don’t. We go about our daily lives, sometimes thinking about what we can do for our country and other times thinking about what our country can do for us.  But honestly, most of the time we’re too wrapped up in our own lives to even think about our relationship to our country.

In addition to seeing fireworks, partying with our friends and family, let’s take this Independence Day to think about how we can give our best to America. It can be something as simple as committing to go to a city council meeting, or volunteering at a community event.

We can’t earn our blessings but if we take advantage of them in a positive way then we can make the spirits of the people who truly gave their best rest easy, knowing their sacrifices were not made in a vain.

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