Filed under: art, dreams | Tags: Arlington National Cemetery, dreams, Military, service, West Point
My grandfather retired from the Army several years before I was born so I’d never had much of a sense of his military life. There were souvenirs and stories about it but I had very little connection to it, or interest, frankly. I grew up in the Peace Movement – going to demonstrations and hanging out at the Peace Center so the military seemed very far away from my life. Since my grandfather’s death, however, I’ve had more contact with the military than I did in all the years before and it’s given me a new appreciation for what the military does and can do.
My grandfather’s military burial at Arlington National Cemetery, for example, was one of the most compelling pieces of theatre this (lifelong) theatre maker has seen. My theatre brain has been turning over the question of how to make something that powerful and packed with meaning ever since.
My mother donated my grandfather’s ring to West Point so we were invited to the West Point Ring Melt Ceremony. We gathered at a refinery to see the donated West Point class rings melted down to become part of the class rings of the 2017 graduates. The symbolism is incredibly effective. The graduates of West Point are called The Long Gray Line and the continuity between generations was remarkable and moving to see.
At the dinner before the ceremony, I discovered that each class had a motto – a phrase that was particularly meaningful for them. I heard many mottos about honor and duty and service – all of which sounded like what I imagined the military to be. The class of 2017 – the ones who were to receive the donated rings – chose the motto, “So Others May Dream.” I found myself incredibly moved by it. I was moved in a way that took me by surprise. I think it helped me understand what all that talk about “service” in the military is all about. I have understood that I am meant to thank people for their service and that they have fought for my freedoms and so on. But it was all very abstract for me.
“So Others May Dream” touched me because I am a dreamer. My artistic practice demands that I have time and space for dreaming. This idea of serving to make space for others’ dreams made me feel what The Service really wants to be about. Or at least the class of 2017’s idea of The Service. I wondered if it was not a coincidence that the West Point magazine recently had an Arts issue and highlighted that famous Churchill response to the idea of cutting arts and culture. He reportedly said, “Then what are we fighting for?” In a world where arts can be made to feel expendable, it touches me that these cadets will fight for my right to make art and for my right to dream.
I’m not convinced that every inch of the military is this altruistic. None of the complicated messes of the Military Industrial Complex go away with this new perspective I have. But Dreaming goes a step beyond Serving which warms the cockles of this artistic heart. It also somehow gives me hope for a more compassionate military in the future – with these young leaders at the head of it, I have a little glimmer of hope. I have a much keener sense of what it means to serve and to sacrifice, having seen bits of the military in action and I’m proud now to know more about my Grandfather’s lineage in these traditions.
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