Friday night my husband and I sat on our deck overlooking the twinkling lights of the Los Angeles San Fernando Valley. After a glass (or two) of wine, tears of despair began to run down my cheeks. In the midst of a hurricane, the president had unleashed his latest round of intolerance by pardoning defiant former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and unveiling the specifics of his plan for booting transgender people from our armed forces. We were still reeling from Charlottesville and the “many sides” remarks of a man who also keeps trying to ban Muslims from entering our country, who won’t shut up about building The Wall, and who is determined to undermine the free press.
It’s nearly impossible to come to terms with the profoundly hateful rhetoric and blatant white nationalist symbolism that is infiltrating our lives on a daily basis. I am the parent of an LGBTQ child. My daughter-in-law is Jewish. Over the weekend, a so-called Facebook friend called my husband a “spic.” So I feel defensive and protective of both friends and strangers who are targets of hate groups and ignorance.
Before Sunday night, I had no idea how our nation could reconcile the ugliness that divides us. Then I saw Pink Martini at the Hollywood Bowl. By the end of the evening I felt like I’d participated in a highly successful, hands-across-the-water peace mission cum summer camp, where participants dance around the globe singing “Kumbaya” or “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.”
The group’s bandleader and pianist Thomas Lauderdale has said, “If the United Nations had a house band in 1962, hopefully we’d be that band.”
I knew next to nothing about Pink Martini prior to seeing them at the Bowl, the group’s 17th performance at that iconic venue. It was moving and exhilarating to watch the band beckon audience members to join them on stage to sing in their native tongues, which included Japanese, Armenian, French, Turkish and more.
About 10 Arabic speakers backed up guest soloist Ikram Goldman. An Israeli-born owner of a high fashion boutique in Chicago, Goldman famously outfitted Michelle Obama during her husband’s 2008 campaign and first White House years. NPR’s All Things Considered host Ari Shapiro then stepped up to sing a number penned by a Palestinian songwriter.
By the time all was sung and done, and people from Mexico, Nigeria and dozens of other countries had paraded across the stage, the profound sadness I’d felt going into the weekend was washed away by the sheer inclusiveness of it all. LA is diverse, and I don’t know if Pink Martini duplicates this spectacle in Kansas City or Wilmington or Ft. Lauderdale. I hope so, because the message delivered by this show is beyond entertaining, it’s imperative.
It’s no secret that music heals. And we all have something of value to give. Forget the art of the deal. Let’s use art to heal. We all have something to offer and giving can be an art form. If it’s not music or a paintbrush or words, perhaps it’s baking or knitting or teaching. Maybe it’s our willingness to drive or babysit, ladle out soup or simply sit and listen. When I was a young Girl Scout, our troop embroidered gingham dish towels, which we distributed to residents at a senior citizens’ complex—a modest gesture, but one that brought joy and value to folks who may have felt lonely or useless. We all have some gift that can empower us to reach across the divide.
We clearly can’t look to the White House for restoration or leadership when it comes to healing our vast racial and cultural differences. It’s up to us. If, like Pink Martini, we commit to embrace one another, rather than push away all who are foreign to us, we can create an artistic level of compassion and humanity. That would be something to sing about.