On the Corner

by Robert Docter – 

I started getting these heavy thoughts,

What are the guiding principles of your life? What beliefs guide your actions? What is really important to you? What behavior do you hope to model for those around you? I guess the new year is as good a time as any to explore these kinds of questions. We get a fresh calendar–a clean page–a new journal in which to plan, scrawl, or chronicle the events of life. That blank page is truly motivating.

I had completed, a day or so earlier, my 50th trek up Colorado Blvd. with the Army’s Rose Parade Band and was in the middle of my run through the park when the increased blood flow to my brain forced these ponderous thoughts on me. Maybe it was the pain in my feet. Who knows? Anyway, I started wondering how in the world I ever had got to the place of marching those six miles 50 times–300 miles–technically, it’s a short hike, but when you add the exertion of 25 or 30 marches and 50-60 hymn tunes to the equation it becomes a lot of work. Was this an example of blind rigidity, commitment gone awry–or was it steadfast perseverance?

I tried to figure out what kept me pulling on that red coat at 5 a.m. New Year’s Day. I knew it wasn’t the music. I’ve had enough of “Golden Jubilee” (the march with “Onward Christian Soldiers” in it.) Every time I even hear some other band sound a roll off to start playing, I shudder. It’s certainly not that complicated drum cadence the drummers have labeled “Hosanna.” I hear that in my sleep. You see, in recent years I’ve been assigned the honor of marching directly in front of the bass drum (I think they want to drown me out). It couldn’t be the magnificence of the world’s most beautiful parade. All I’ve ever seen of it is the back of the float in front and the square head and irregular marching style of the person I follow. It definitely isn’t all that rehearsal time spent on practicing for that one corner on the parade route–the one with all the cameras. Sometime I’d like to learn to turn that corner the way the Marine Corps Band does it.

I think a couple of things keep me coming back. Both have strong feelings of affiliation connected with them. One is being part of the band–wearing the same uniform–facing the same challenge–trying to march together as a single unit. The camaraderie is powerful. It must have some of the same feeling as being part of a rifle company in combat. I think the second reason has to do with the crowd. They love the Army, and they roar their affection. They wave the Army salute even without knowing it. We remind them that we’re still around–going about the difficult tasks God has assigned us, and only blowing our horns on the march.

But why 50 times?

With my heart pounding in the middle of a hill climb I came to the conclusion that one of the guiding principles of my life is to stay faithful. I guess I’m a stayer. I hang in and hang on. But hanging around isn’t the whole story. There’s more to life than longevity. There is an object connected to faithfulness–a creed, a promise, a belief, a person, a set of ideals. Staying faithful simply means that one strives to demonstrate faithfulness to something over time. I continually experience the joy of rediscovering the beauty of the one who agreed to marry me not quite 50 years ago. I’ve gone to the same corps (in four different buildings and sporting an equal number of different labels) for over 50 years. We’ve worked through some difficult stress points together. I’ve played in the band that long. Some people have suggested that I’m part of the glue in the place (I almost typed “flue”–blame Freud). I hope they don’t mean I gum up the works.

One remains faithful to the degree one is genuinely committed. That means longevity. That means exclusivity. That means knowing what comes first in priority order. And because commitment also means reciprocity, one remains faithful to that which one loves and which delivers the feeling of being loved. Love is not a product. It’s a process. The giving of faithful love is reciprocal. One receives more than one gives. And because it’s a process, it requires work. I can’t count the number of times I have wished I had never started up Colorado Blvd. I somehow, from somewhere, with some act of will have determined I would see that parade through to the finish.

There it goes again. Another roll off. Up comes my horn. You guessed it–“Golden Jubilee”

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