A SIGN OF HOPE
By Doug Goodkin
A Crisis Papers Guest Essay
November 4, 2008
It happened on West 94 to Minneapolis. I had just given a workshop
in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, a place named “Clear Water” that conjured
up images of pristine lakes and farms with good cheese. Shouldn‘t I
know better by now? It was a town that was no town, the new American
malled-nightmare with nothing at its center. There I was again,
staying in the faceless hotel that serves old Rice Krispies in
plastic bowls and pseudo-orange juice from Styrofoam cups for
breakfast, driving down the Walmart-studded streets, dining at
Country Kitchens, a “restaurant” neither Country nor Kitchen. Having
recently come from hotel breakfasts and city dinners in Bangkok and
Hanoi and Vancouver, places that served real food on real plates,
where a walk down a street revealed a character that only that
street could have, I couldn’t help but shake my head and wonder once
again, “What have we become?”
I tried to ignore the big screen TV’s blaring everywhere, but I did
get hooked by a newspaper headline “How low can we go?!” My heart
sprung to life, daring to hope that the media finally was speaking
up and blasting Palin for her inflammatory remarks or Bush for his
next atrocity. But like Charlie Brown kicking the football, I fell
flat on my back yet again—it was talking, of course, about the Stock
And so driving back to the airport on I-94, the trees quietly
blazing their October color, I tried to shake off the media venom
and heartbreaking stupidity and listen to what the rolling hills had
to say. This was land like the Ohio of my college years and I
couldn’t help but feel how different I had become, my hopes and
dreams from back then trampled by the events of the last eight
years. And yet the trees were constant, still blooming, turning,
decaying and blooming again and the hills not yet stripped for the
next mall still had grasses waving freely in the wind.
It was at this moment when the song came on from the troubadours of
my college years, The Incredible String Band. This was one I had
forgotten, but how prophetically it matched my mood. In a haunting
minor key and deliberate slow tempo, held aloft by long organ notes
and winged forward by a commenting tinwhistle, they sang the
following words. Read them slowly, savor each line, spend a moment
with each image.
"Seasons they change, while cold blood is
I have been waiting, beyond the years.
Now over the skyline, I see you’re traveling.
Brothers from all times, gathering here.
Come let us build the ship of the future
In an ancient pattern, that journeys far.
Come let us set sail for the always-islands
Through seas of leaving to the summer’s stars.
Seasons they change, but with gaze unchanging
Oh, deep-eyed sisters, is it you I see?
Seeds of beauty, you bear within you
Of unborn children, glad and near.
Within your fingers, the fates are spinning.
The sacred binding of the yellow grain
Scattered we were, when the long night was breaking.
But in bright morning, converge again."
As the last note sounded, I looked behind a grove of
trees where a large hand-painted sign lept out: OBAMA.
I screamed. I didn’t mean to. It just came out of my body. A
homemade Obama sign that appeared just at the right time— a sign
that was a sign. So listen for me the night of Nov. 4th. I’m going
to the rooftops and shouting with exultation when what MUST happen
WILL happen. Not the solution to everything that lies before us, but
the restoration of dream, the renewal of hope, the sense that
efforts might actually begin to bear fruit, as we all gather yet
again to build the ship of the future. We have been scattered too
long. Dear brothers and sisters, we have been waiting while cold
blood is reigning, but the bright morning is just over the horizon.
See you all there.
Doug Goodkin is the head music teacher at The San Francisco School,
and an Orff music master who teaches worldwide. He has authored six
books on music education, especially focused on the connections
between Orff Schulwerk and jazz and multi-cultural music.