Staff Columnist

Out of injustice, a chance for promise

In Iowa: Finding moments of grace and forgiveness in tumultuous times

Family and friends of Sgt. Donald Baker, including his niece, Kaggie Baker of Cedar Rapids, center, watch Tuesday as his casket is placed in a hearse following a memorial service at Cedar Memorial Chapel. Sgt. Baker served in the Korean War and was considered missing in action. His remains recently were identified, and were interred at Oak Hill Cemetery following the service. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Family and friends of Sgt. Donald Baker, including his niece, Kaggie Baker of Cedar Rapids, center, watch Tuesday as his casket is placed in a hearse following a memorial service at Cedar Memorial Chapel. Sgt. Baker served in the Korean War and was considered missing in action. His remains recently were identified, and were interred at Oak Hill Cemetery following the service. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

I saw one of my favorite musicians, singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile, Tuesday at the Paramount Theatre. She both unabashedly rocked on her guitar and sang soulful ballads in front of a piano, but my favorite thing about the evening was how joyful the room was.

The audience was clearly in love with her and her band, cheering and dancing their adoration, and she gave that adoration right back. She also spread it around, insisting her longtime bandmates, twin brothers Phil and Tim Hanseroth, were just as integral to her music as she was. She brought her opening act, the incredibly talented Americana crooners The Secret Sisters, onstage time and again, saying she wanted to give them a chance to shine. And with each sharing of the spotlight, the crowd cheered.

The album Carlile was promoting, “By The Way, I Forgive You,” is one she has said is about “radical forgiveness.” Her personal illustration of it is publicly forgiving the pastor who refused to baptize her when she was 15 because she is gay.

“It’s a really radical and ugly, difficult process that, you know, great beauty comes from,” she said of such forgiveness in a February interview with NPR.

It’s a worldview I want to wade into right now, as the news is filled with the sounds of crying children ripped from their parents, as we still process suicides of beloved figures like Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, as school shootings have become so commonplace they barely can dominate a news cycle.

The world can feel overwhelming and heavy these days. I don’t know how to radically forgive all the ugly things people in our society do to each other and all the cruel things we say, sometimes as casually as we say hello. But trying to live in a mind-set of grace instead of hatred seems like the only way to live at all.

Also on Tuesday, I was honored to cover the memorial service and burial of Army Sgt. Donald Baker, who was declared missing in action nearly 68 years ago during the Korean War, when he was just 20 years old. For decades, his family was denied closure, never knowing what happened to their loved one, who never returned from the hellscape of war.

But this year, his remains were identified and returned to them.

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The ceremony was a moment of grace, of healing. Too many of us are familiar with the military honors at a funeral — the guards in white gloves, slowly walking in unison, carefully folding the flag and saluting the bereaved. With all of that solemn ceremony, they are saying to the family, ‘You are important, what you have sacrificed matters, you are due respect and honor.’

Baker’s niece, Kaggie Baker of Cedar Rapids, expressed how it felt to see her uncle’s remains treated with such care.

“I’m sad, in a way, that he’s gone, and I didn’t get to see him growing up. But they gave him great honors today. I don’t know whether to cry, or laugh, or jump, or get happy,” she said. “I’m glad I lived to see this day. You know, we were living in slavery, but today we’re free, and we’re honored.”

It’s a quote I included in the story we published in Wednesday’s Gazette, but I thought it was worth printing again. The Bakers are black, and Kaggie Baker’s sentiment speaks to both the cruel injustices our county is capable of and of the promise it offers.

With some grace, and some respect for our common human dignity, maybe we can all work further toward that promise.

l Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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