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Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Pride and Grace and Courage and Some Tears

If it was the angels, one of them was named Heather.

The evolution of language plays tricks on us. Thus it is that to cleave is sometimes to separate and sometimes to cling together. And inflammable is the same as flammable, only longer.

There is a pride that is feared and decried by people of many faiths. It is diabolical, vaunting itself, in its purest instances, above even God. In everyday human form, it admires itself unduly in the mirror -- any mirror will do -- and rejoices in having a thing not for its own sake, but because others have it not. It takes joy in others' misfortune. It is the polar opposite of Paul's charity, which "seeketh not her own."

So hated and feared is this evil pride, and so awfully familiar from private forays into the unuttered recesses of even the humble soul, that we can scarcely admit our pride when it is just and right. We feel we must apologize, confess it, put it off. We are wrong; this is perhaps the language's dirtiest trick of all.

For there is another pride, as luminous as the first is dark. It is the parent's pride in the child's goodness or moral courage. It is the citizen's pride in whatever there is that is honorable and poignant in a nation or its history. Unlike evil pride, this pride -- dare one call it divine? -- joys in the thing itself, for its own sake, and is more inclined to share a blessing than to hoard it or gloat over it.

This is the pride of a community, however broadly you care to define that word -- I think this week it must be very broadly indeed -- the pride of a community in a steady procession of youth who, a few hundred at a time, year after year, labor mightily and uphold a tradition of creating intricate, disciplined works of stunning visual and musical beauty. Excellence in any worthy endeavor supplies its own beauty, the more so in music. And beauty on its own merits has something of divinity about it.

This just and solemn pride is redoubled now in American Fork, as well it should be. Tonight thousands of people witnessed, at that place in Provo where we usually watch football, the sublime intersection of familiar musical and visual artistry with mass courage. It is by courage we stand tall with our comrades in the serried ranks of duty, when our heavy hearts would prefer to cower and weep. It is by courage we press forward, excel, when a leader, heroine, and friend of a sudden walks with us no more.

The American Fork High School Marching Band's performance tonight would have been a thing of beauty and power even without this context. In context, it was a thing of courage and grace. Perhaps it is too easy to say, when they won everything there was to win, but it hardly matters this time that the judges thought them best. This night's offering is no more profound for being crowned with trophies. They are mere baubles next to courage and grace.

There were abundant tears tonight, I know, but not, I think, of unmixed sadness. Sadness must have been somewhere beneath the joy, pride, admiration, affection, gratitude. And many of the youth must have donned the full weight of mourning later, when glorious, difficult duty was done, perhaps even as they put off the splendid red, white, and black of the uniform. But, if there is such as thing as tears of grace, perhaps that is what they mostly were tonight. For grace -- "amazing grace," to be sure -- was not just in the song BYU's own band played in memory and in fine and fitting tribute at the end; 'twas grace that . . . how shall I say this? . . . knitted us together and traveled with us homeward.

It may have been merely a light rain that sprinkled gently through the hour I spent watching marching bands and the people who watch them tonight. Or was it the angels, harbingers of grace, weeping their own quiet tears at a solemn, humane, and beautiful sight -- tears, again, less of sadness than of joy and admiration, of gratitude and proper pride?

If it was the angels, one of them was named Heather. She stood in the front. And she was the proudest of all.

Ken and Michelle Draper comment (10/19/09):

I am proud to say I attended this display of courage and I believe much reverence. I believe we had the privilege of the presence of angels, and I hope one was sounding his trumpet with the chorus on the field. Always band parents . . .

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