Music Monday: Declarations

Every parent remembers that moment when a tiny pink or blue bundle in which your newborn baby has been carefully swaddled is laid tenderly into your waiting, anxious arms. In that moment, as you gaze into the eyes of your future, you somehow know that your life has been forever changed. Mine did at 11:50 a.m. June 26, 1983 when I stared and marveled a 7 lbs. 6 oz. beautiful baby boy we named Hunter Ross. I knew that he truly was the prettiest baby boy ever because lots of other people told me so! And they weren’t all relatives.

From that day, those big brown eyes and charming smile stole my heart and produced a love bigger than I had ever known before. Like every parent, I looked forward to a lifetime of future bedtimes, bath times, sports, music lessons, graduations, weddings, and grandchildren. But sometimes, The Universe has other plans for us.

After several very difficult teenage years, Hunter was diagnosed with a moderate stage of mental illness. By the time he was 20 years old, it had progressed to a severe state requiring us to find special housing for him. To say we were devastated would be an understatement. All of our hopes and promising dreams for that beautiful baby boy seemed gone… up in smoke.

All parents of a child with any kind of disability, whether physical or psychological, will tell you that you never totally give up hope or stop loving your compromised or fragile children but I did have many moments of utter despair. Under that kind of stress and disappointment, it’s easy to lose sight of what you do have and any chance of a hopeful or improved outcome. But while Hunter did not give me graduations, weddings or grandchildren, he did give me some things I could have never expected, experienced, nor understood.

Over time and with help, Hunter’s condition improved and he turned out to be quite capable and found ways to integrate well into society. He’s worked full-time at an upscale deli for the past 3 years, owns his own car, keeps an incredibly tidy home, and has more money in the bank than most people his age. He loves his family and spending time wake boarding on the lake every summer.

Hunter will turn 33 years old on June 26th (how is that possible?) and through our journey together, there are two distinct gifts that he has given to me. The first is an unshakeable faith that miracles can indeed happen… even when everything and everyone says they can’t. Hunter taught me to hold on, to look again, and never, ever give up. And secondly, that everyone has value. Everyone. No one is expendable, worthless, or beyond hope.

Hunter and our family will continue to wrestle with the changes and challenges that come with mental illness but I never imagined we would see him so productive, independent, and happy. It was a proud moment when he walked me down the aisle at my wedding last summer.

For this Music Monday in June, in honor of Hunter’s birthday and all he has accomplished, I choose a Sara Barielles song from her new stage play, Waitress, called Everything Changes. Her lyric says it all: “What I thought was so permanent fades and I swear I’ll remember to say we were both born today… everything changes.” I hope it will inspire you to be mindful of the inherent value in everyone you meet and to never, ever lose hope for a miraculous future.

God Bless America –  Kate Smith

The time was 1940. America was still in a terrible economic depression. Hitler was taking over Europe and Americans feared they would have to go to war. It was a time of hardship and worry for most Americans.

This was the era just before television when radio shows were how people got most of their news. American families sat around their radios in the evenings, listening to their favorite news shows and entertainment and no entertainer of that era was bigger than Kate Smith… in more ways than one. Kate is what we would call “plus-size” today. The well-known phrase, “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings” is in deference to her closing song on the popular radio program each night.

She was also very patriotic. It hurt her to see Americans so worried, fearful, and depressed… afraid of what the next newscast might bring. She had hope for America and faith in her fellow Americans. She wanted to do something to cheer them up so she contacted the famous American songwriter, Irving Berlin (composer of White Christmas), and asked him to write a song that would make them feel good again about the future of their country. But he didn’t have to write it because once she described what she was looking for, he pulled from his files a song he had written 22 years before but never published. He gave it to her and she worked on it with her studio orchestra.

Not sure how popular the song would be, Kate and Irving both agreed they would not take any profits from the song and instead would donate them to the Boy Scouts of America in perpetuity… which has resulted in millions of dollars donated in royalties from this song.

The link to the video below is the first public performance of God Bless America. After this performance, it became Kate Smith’s signature song. There is a short preamble to the song that is dropped most of the time but which Kate always used in her performances. After the first couple of verses, the video shows scenes of the 1940 movie, “You’re in the Army Now.” Notice at the about the four-minute mark, the young actor Ronald Reagan sitting in an office, reading a newspaper.

“While the storm clouds gather far across the sea, 
Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free. 
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair, 

As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer:

God bless America, land that I love, 
Stand beside her and guide her 
Through the night with a light from above. 
From the mountains, to the prairies, 
To the oceans white with foam, 
God bless America, 

My home sweet home.”  

Irving Berlin



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