“America! America! God mend thine every flaw,
confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.”
Katherine Lee Bates
This coming Sunday nearest the fourth of July we will have a patriotic hymn sing along after church. One of my favorites is the music to Katherine Lee Bates poem, “America the Beautiful.” “O beautiful for spacious skies for amber waves of grain.” Bates wrote the hymn after she arrived in a prairie wagon on top of the 14,000-foot Pike’s Peak near Colorado Springs in the summer of 1893.
I became connected to the poem and the hymn when I helped plan a pediatric radiology meeting at nearby Colorado Springs in 1994. I took a sabbatical from Children’s Hospital for six months in order to plan the international pediatric radiology meeting. I had much help from people all over the world, but I also had a touch of what Parker Palmer calls “functional atheism,” believing I was the “only” one who needed to get most of the work done.
After a year of planning and everything was ready, I vividly remember sitting in a board meeting in May at the event hotel just before the conference was about to begin. I looked out of the adjacent large bay window, and saw to my horror, the beginning of the last snow of winter, in May! I had planned in detail a multitude of outdoor activities that now would never see the light of day. I now keep a beautiful picture of snow on the tulips in front of the hotel to remind me of how little in life I can control.
There were a multitude of other hiccups. We recorded speakers for a meeting video. One speaker did not like his recording and required us to redo his filming at least five times. I will always be indebted to Marilyn Goske whom I had casually asked to watch over the videoing of the speakers. She patiently stayed with the speakers and missed the whole meeting to get this done. Another hiccup was our evening entertainment after dinner. We had scheduled the Air Force Academy Cadet Choir. Then without warning they were called to maneuvers. Our meeting planner booked a local children’s chorus. I was embarrassed that this would be amateurish and poorly performed. As you might expect, they were some of the most charming, talented and poised children performers I have ever seen. They ended their concert by going to individual members of the highly-educated, sophisticated audience and held their hands and sang directly to them. We all gave them a standing ovation through our tears, remembering that the children we serve as physicians can teach us so much about life as well as “American the Beautiful.”
I also learned from this meeting that no matter how hard I try, I am not in charge, that God provides amazing people around me who will take over situations that are overwhelming, and I especially learned after dinner that when a door unexpectedly closes, the next door that opens often is surprisingly magnificent.