My generation came of age in the 1960’s and 1970’s, a time not so different from now. For those who don’t have the reference point, this was the season of political assassinations (Kennedy, King, Kennedy), Viet Nam, the 1968 Democratic convention, Watergate, the National Guard killing students at Kent State, race riots, free speech and free love, not to mention Woodstock and the disco era. We survived all of that to enter a new era of relative peace, prosperity, and pride in our nation. How did we manage to overcome a time that many Americans and all our allies feared would be the end of us?
The answer to that question is naturally complicated. There is no one answer, rather a series of small victories and progress driven by a national recognition that we needed to heal. We did not agree on everything, but we did decide to respect and honor each other. That was a starting point. It wasn’t perfect, it was a start.
I suppose there are millions of answers to the question of what changed us. Each citizen will have their own response. I can recall three moments that touched me in the moment, moments when I realized each were important at a personal or national level.
Music was as big a part of culture then as it is now and every once in a while, a song touched a deeper chord. He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother by the Hollies was such a song. It was inspired by the story of Boys Town, a well-known orphanage for young boys. Sometime after it was released, however, it was used as background music on a news story about a black soldier rescued and carried off the battlefield by a white soldier who hated him, and the bond that created between them. This powerful song and accompanying battlefield images became a rallying cry for healing in America, touching us with a message of sacrifice and love.
While in Southeast Asia I had a close friend, my best friend, who was a black kid from Detroit. All my other buddies were white, his all black. They all wondered what was wrong with us. I grew up in San Diego and had never really known a black person before, much less as a friend. I taught Mike about surf music and the Dodgers, he introduced me to Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Jimmy Smith, and taught me to play chess. We both read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and then discussed it for months. I came home from that year, Mike didn’t. I asked myself then and again now, how do I honor him in this moment?
In 1976 I was stationed at Langley AFB in Hampton, Virginia, just a few miles from the Yorktown battlefield. Our young family experienced the nation’s 200th anniversary on the Yorktown battlefield, watching the re-enactment of the battle, the patriotic festivities, and the best fireworks show I’ve ever seen. It was a day of pride, thankfulness, and unity.
Those are three moments from my life. What are yours, and what will be ours today in this time and trial? Will we be able to recognize them through our hatred and distrust? Do we care enough to fight for truth and peace? Do we care enough to honor, respect, and uplift each other even though we do not agree on everything? Do we care enough to love each other as God intends?
There is only one answer: God. Do we care enough to let Him change our hearts? That is the question before us. Do we care enough to love?