Have you ever wondered what sustains this activity of ours? Think about this for a minute. Color guard is an activity that when you step out of the gym and enter the light of the world, no one really understands what we do. To us, we are the activity that backed up Lady Ga Ga at the Super Bowl with lighted air rifles. To us, we are the reason people tune in to the Macy’s parade every year. To us, we are the reason football players have something to do on Friday nights. To us, we are the reason the world turns.
Let’s be honest, though. With the many advances we have made as an activity, the reality is that outside of the gym we are simply just flags in a gym. Do you remember that phrase? I remember the first time I ever heard it. I was judging a local show when a guard instructor had a virtual meltdown in critique when he realized that his show was not going to be the work of art he had hoped it would be. He cried. He pouted. He even begged for more points. And in the not so distant distance, a GE judge said, “I understand that you are upset, but try to remember that it’s just flags in a gym.” Flags in a gym. That’s all it really is when you think about it. Flags in a gym. Usually rifles. Usually sabres. Sometimes something really strange, but in all reality at the end of the day, it’s just flags in a gym. But my friend, we know that it’s oh so much more than that. Our little flags in a gym is really the way we as a tribe express hope.
Inside the flag that spins and the snap of the rifle catch is the reason we sustain ourselves and the reason we’ve been around since someone looked at a flag waving on pole and thought, “I wonder what would happen if I spun that?” Hope is what moves us from the football field to the gym; season after season. It is hope that brings us back in January after a defeating April and then allows us to focus on a field of silk during the crushing hot summer days of band camp.
Hope is who we are and can be a lesson for those lost in life not knowing where to turn. If you watch Disney movies like I do, you see that there is a common thread that runs through all of them and sometimes that thread is painfully obvious, but other times there are hidden gems that make you hope for this two dimensional cartoon of a character to survive and find their way in the darkness of the world. Take Dori for example. Dori only wants to find her parents. She goes through great lengths to reunite, but the true hope comes when you see that her parents left seashells along the ocean floor to guide Dori back home. Their hope guided her home. Hope is the indescribable feeling that tomorrow will be better; that there is something out there that exceeds this moment that which you are experiencing right now. They say that it is when we give up hope is when our soul decides to die. When my grandmother was about 80, she met a man at church and formed a friendship to the point where she called this man her boyfriend. When he passed away, I could see hope leave my grandmother and it was then I realized that even the elderly need that hope of love that sustains our very essence of being.
Hope is what pushes us during the pressure of March to get to the championships floor in April. No matter how bad things have gone, there is a hope that something at championships will go better than it has gone so far. That dream of what to come propels us to push harder and go beyond what we could have ever imagined. With hope, we stand up, stand proud, and look into the eyes of the judges and say, “Watch this.”
When life goes awry and the skies turn dark on our lives, it’s color guard that keeps us going. Among death, disease, sadness, and despair; it is hope that takes up back to the gym, because it is in the gym where we feel safe. We are among friends and those friends are who we call our family. Desmond Tutu, the great South African social rights activist once said of hope that there is a light despite of the darkness and hope lets us see that light. When our jobs aren’t going well we have the gym. When our marriages fall apart, we have the gym. When we lose our faith in humanity, we still have the gym.
We always have the gym. I write this today, because being in the gym makes me lose my sense of desperation happening in the world. Never in my lifetime have I seen such sadness and anger that embodies the country the way it does right now. I have worked in human services my entire adult life and have seen despair in the eyes of the homeless mother and fear in the kids sentenced to prison for minor drug offenses, but never have I felt so lost among my fellow man as it is a feeling we all seem to share right now. I’m afraid for our future and I’m afraid for my son. Will he ever have to go to fight an unjust war, because our leaders are preaching fear and lies? Will he have health insurance? Will he be properly educated? In the midst of the anger that builds up inside of me is hope that sits inside a gymnasium of kids waiting to be taught and waiting to be judged. They pour their hearts out while their hands sweat through worn tattered gloves. My hope stems from a new generation of instructors who just want to make their mark on the activity and I feel such joy watching them bring their show ideas to life. When I’m in the gym I lose all sense of reality of the outside world. I can go through an entire weekend from wheels up to wheels down and never once think about the hatred spewing out of Washington, because the gym is my oasis. On any given Saturday in March, I can feel like I have always felt with good friends and good times, because our pageantry activity is timeless. With the after rehearsal cocktail and long night chats about how to make the activity better, we lose ourselves with each others creativity and absolute passion. Over time, some friends have passed on and others we just simply moved on, but the memory is there and with that memory is those of us who won’t give up creating until our time to pass has come.
Generation after generation have taken the floor to have their one moment in front of the audience and later, when life’s horrors knock on their door they use that moment to say, “No thank you. I think I’ll spin my flag.” That flag, whether it is the one that sits in the corner of their childhood bedroom or whether it’s just the memory of the flag, will always be what moves us forward. The friendship. The tears. The sweat. The love. The anger. The stress. It is always a part of us and it is through those days on the floor that allows to keep moving on.
It’s like that song.
To every thing
There is a season
And a time to every purpose under Heaven
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together
A time of love, a time of hate
A time to win, a time to lose
A time for peace, I swear it’s not to late.
When we are in the gym, it is our purpose and it is our time. It’s our time to forget about the news of the day and to remember about hard work with good people. We have our fights, but we always have our love. We have hope.
We have hope that the show will get better each night. We have hope that our score will go up at the next show. We have hope we will make finals. We hope that the kids will have a good run through. We have hope that we will win. We have hope the kids will come back next year. We have hope that next year will be better. We hope to make new friends in a gym we visit just once while we are helping out a good friend. We have hope. The entire activity is built around hope and that is our greatest gift that is rarely acknowledged in Facebook posts celebrating the end of a Saturday night full of youth filled performances.
In my life, in all of our lives, we have had challenges. I have had challenges. It was a cold day many years ago in March where my little color guard teenage world came crashing down around me. I remember thinking, “…but all I want to do is perform.” And so I did. I eventually found my way back to the gym and after every life challenge through work, relationships, and parenting; I always found my way back. I have threatened to quit, but I have always made it back. Each year has landed me in gyms and on football fields around the country and in the end it has always been hope that kept me bringing me back for more. I am very grateful for the winter guard season I am having. I have made new friends and reunited with some very dear ones that go back decades. It was hope that brought old back together and it was the belief that there were people we have yet to meet that brought new friends together for the first time. It’s always hope and my hope is that the rest of your season is one of friendship and love and that next year we will find each other again in a gym somewhere and share a hug, a laugh, and kind word.
Good luck as you push to the end.