The CCC Nature Trail is my respite. When the city is stifling or overwhelming, I take a minute to walk down and admire the oasis provided to us by the local college. The sports fields lie adjacent, and I pass them each time. Fall brought after-school games into dusk, and packed the field with jerseys and whooping teammates. There was a girls’ soccer game last night.

I was returning from the trail, and I heard the familiar sound of stadium lights thunking awake. The announcer started introducing players, teams erupting after each one. I could feel the energy, and swelled with hometown spirit.

Separately, a young woman’s name was called. She would sing the national anthem. Blocked by the trees, I couldn’t see, but I could hear as clearly as if I had stood beside her. The first note was dead on. She had a rich voice, and other vocalists entered with harmonies, stoking the song with their blend.

I was so quickly absorbed in its musical quality that I had no time to think of anger at sports games over the Anthem. The consonants were crisp and full; the vowels careful and precise. It had transmuted from a ballad to a performance, and all without seeing the singers.

Then the end came. I have heard the anthem sung many times, and more conclusions than I can count on two hands. I waited, following the careful cadence in my head. For the land of the free and the home of the, I held my breath, like waiting for a shockwave after a blast. Brave. It was flawless. She had chosen just the right note. I hope her vocal teacher was there; she would have been immensely proud to hear it.

Walking home, I realized that there was no controversy that evening. It was not about who was right or wrong, or one side versus another. No matter what everyone on the field and in the stands thought to themselves, they had made a choice to celebrate and support students together. It was a mutual, conscious effort. Listening to the anthem, I did not hear a distressed, contentious nation. I heard confident young women and a stadium of applause that cheered for them.

Zach Cuipylo