Breaking the Sound Barrier

Is this the Second Summer of Love? Almost two weeks ago, a few days before the summer solstice, we were once again startled by a sickening massacre of innocents—this time in a church. Even more startling, perhaps, was the forgiveness bestowed upon the gunman a day later by the families of the slain victims. Many of us didn’t realize we had barriers to forgiveness until hearing of their incredible mercy. It was extraordinary!

That same day, Marc Maron interviewed President Obama on Maron’s WTF podcast. This was a first for any President. Those who listened to it on Monday June 22nd when it was released, were treated to an historic conversation not only because it was unprecedented (unintended pun), but because it was amazing!

The President and Maron had an easy conversation about difficult things, especially the excruciating massacre in Charleston, and the seemingly unbreakable hold that racism has on our culture. Obama spoke thoughtfully without seeming to have to think. We could hear what sounded like a natural conversation—unscripted, although the ideas seem to have been developed.

News outlets and the rest of media, social and anti-social, took a sound bite from the conversation and attempted to create an issue over the scariest sound heard in America—the N-word. Of course when I listened to the podcast, I listened in its entirety, and the barrier that I heard broken was not that the N-word was uttered, or that it was said in a complete sentence without emphasis, or that it was vocalized by the President. The barrier that was broken, was that the President said what needed to be said in a way that could be heard (if one were actually listening). Being polite about not using the N-word is not the same as the end of racism in America. BOOM!

That same day, Nikki Haley, Conservative Republican Governor of South Carolina, made a moving speech calling for the removal of the Confederate Flag from government property. She was emotional and compassionate and her voice has led others to follow in removing the Confederate Flag from government properties. She acknowledged that the flag has been regarded as a symbol of hate and oppression. Music to our ears!

Later in the week, enormous barriers were broken as The Supreme Court ruled to uphold Obamacare, allowing millions more access to health insurance. More work needs to be done to ensure and insure affordable health care, but the Affordable Care Act was solidified as a start. And just as the sighs of relief were exhaled, the Supreme Court legalized Same Sex Marriage in all 50 states. Love is winning!

While these Supreme Court decisions are historic, something else happened on Friday, the same day Same-Sex Marriage became the law of the land, and it was momentous. President Obama gave the eulogy for the reverend Clementa Pinckney who was gunned down the previous week at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. After what was arguably one of Obama’s greatest speeches (which is saying quite a lot), he startled the mourners there as well as the rest of us. He broke into song. He did not perform as a troubadour or soloist, but he did start solo. Some were audibly startled and one could hear some nervous laughter at first . His voice broke a barrier. The President sang Amazing Grace.

There is something about singing that breaks barriers. We are unguarded when we sing; we just use what we have. I think that’s what was initially startling when the President began to sing. It was outside of the categories that we are used to. But he was quickly joined in song.

The rapid succession of historic moments that seemed to break barriers over the last couple of weeks felt remarkable. Undoubtedly, many will continue to feel threatened by such changes and will continue to sound off. But calling discrimination, freedom won’t work. Attempting to disguise the sounds and symbols of hate won’t work. They have been barriers to living fully in America. We have always become better when we have broken barriers to participation. In what has felt like an unheard of couple of weeks, we are in an historic moment, that sounds pretty great.

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