Last night, I headed downtown to watch Paint Branch Creek play a tribute show to Paul Simon at the Old Parish House. My route carried me through campus, past the kids walking home from evening services at the Jewish student center. For the first time, a police officer had to stand guard for them. As they walked in the garish flashing red and blue light of the patrol car, I thought to myself how utterly we failed these kids and how lost and broken we are as a country.
When I got to the Parish House, the show had already started, so I stood in the back. Seated in rows and rows ahead of me in the audience, some of the folks I love the most in this world looked on as Patrick, Allison, and the guys rolled into their stunning, spare-then-soaring version of “America.”
“Kathy, I’m lost, I said though I knew she was sleeping
And I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They’ve all come to look for America
All come to look for America
All come to look for America.”
This week, I’ve been grateful for the determination and grit of friends and colleagues getting out the vote across the country. Committed advocates who were knocked down and who got back up to try again. When you wonder who has the motivation and the bravery to knock doors, ring phones, and hold rallies in this political climate? It’s them. They believe in what America should be, not what it currently is. They’re willing to fight for it.
At the Parish House, as the final notes of “America” floated up to the rafters, more than one of us wiped away tears. The song felt like an elegy.
It’s worth remembering though that Simon and Garfunkel first put the song out into the world in another year that was an unmitigated horror show for this country. It was released on April 3, 1968. By the next night, Martin Luther King, Jr., would be dead.
We’ve been profoundly lost and broken before. We need to keep looking. When we don’t like what we find, we need to demand better. We owe it to an awful lot of kids who deserve the America Simon’s song aches for.