When I taught a first grade class last week I asked the children to draw a picture of Spring, which has come early to Texas this year. One little boy sheepishly raised his hand and when I knelt down beside him he whispered, "Which one is that"?
What I remember most about first grade is how confused I was - all the time. What kind of a name was "Mark"? How did Cynthia Jones' missing mechanical pencil set end up in my lunch box? And why didn't my teacher laugh uproariously when I hid behind the classroom door and jumped out to scare the pants off her. Instead, her crimson crab-apple face started screaming at right me, "What in the Sam Hill are you doing!?" And then of course, "Who was Sam Hill?"
But nothing befuddled me more than turning towards the corner of the room each morning and solemnly reciting the "Pledge of Allegiance" to a piece of cloth. I sort of understood the "Star Spangled Banner", because at least you sung that and it had action. Even years later, watching my son and his Cub Scout troop raise their hands to recite the pledge kind of gave me the willies all over again. Maybe it's because he had a buzz cut at the time, and if you're a long haired guy from Alabama, the sight of somebody in a blue uniform with a crew cut is petrifying. Then again, I'm also the guy who doesn't feel the need to turn every single sporting event that's not golf or tennis into a celebration of the armed forces. It seemed a stirring national impulse to do so in the wake of 9/11, and it was fitting - but now the two worlds have become inextricably fused. Before you take umbrage and send your emails about how I'm only able to sit around playing this guitar and all that - let me say that I deeply admire and respect the men and women who defend and protect our country. But as a pacifist sports fan, I'd feel equally pleased if we were to all stand up before the opening pitch and recite "The Palm at the End of the Mind", by Wallace Stevens. Or how about Issa's death poem. 75,000 voices at Arrowhead Stadium en masse intoning A bath when you're born A bath when you die How stupid Instead, I take my kids to a baseball game and have to endure some NASCAR flunkie prancing atop the Atlanta Braves dugout with a cordless mic murdering "God Bless America". I don't think it's unpatriotic to find that a complete drag. On the actual 9/11, Cotton Mather had a rehearsal scheduled. I remember Dana and I talking on the phone and deciding it was important for us to meet and make music anyway. That night we gathered in stunned disbelief, set up, plugged in and played "Rocket Man" over and over again for an hour. It's the only thing that made any sense to us that night. The 13th hexagram of the I Ching, Fellowship Among Men, or Seeking Harmony, lays out guiding principles for establishing harmony and integrity within a community. And how a collective mindset may err towards the selfish, or bellicose should they fail to "bind with morality and justice" in the words of Confucius. And also how those who are of one unselfish heart can be "sharp as a knife that is able to cut iron". Walker Percy was fond of saying. "One must do the thing they are most fit to do". And if there is one thing I'm better fit to do than anyone it's to write a song about being in Cotton Mather. I don't know if it's a pledge or an anthem, since a pledge is technically spoken word. But feel free to place your hand over your heart when you listen.