My wife bought one of the late Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's albums on Itunes a while back, the one with the "Somewhere over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World," heard at the end of "Finding Forrester" and other places. It's a beautiful, haunting song that invariably makes me unbelievably sad, and I've never really understood why until about three months ago when I was in the Nimitz Museum in Fredricksburg, Texas, which is called The National Museum of the Pacific War these days and has a really extraordinary collection of Pacific war stuff.
I was browsing in the bookstore when I came across a book of Pearl Harbor photos, and while I leafed through the book, I heard the song in my head. That happens to me a lot, songs popping into my head that have something to do with what I'm doing or thinking about, often just in the title of the song, and I don't always figure out what the connection at first. It's a weird game my brain plays with me, I guess. Have you ever watched David Letterman and noticed that Paul Shaffer will play part of a song that is in some way descriptive of the guest coming onstage, but often in an oblique way (say for example Dude Looks Like a Lady for Rupaul)? Like that, sort of.
So I'm looking at the pictures of the horrible destruction at Pearl Harbor and elsewhere on Oahu, and I can't get "Somewhere over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World" out of my head. And I start tearing up like I sometimes do when I hear that song, and it hits me harder than ever, and I have to kind of wander over in the corner so I can avoid being a blubbering mess in the middle of a museum bookstore. And then I realize that when my wife and I visited Hawaii last June, I spent a long time on the plane there thinking about the attack on Pearl Harbor (my father was on Oahu that day in 1941, and spent the days afterward helping with the cleanup - think finding and moving bodies and body parts - and wondering when the invasion was coming). And the whole time I'm thinking about this on the plane, I'm hearing the song in my head. And at some point I notice that I'm hearing it, which I don't always do, and I decide that Kamakawiwo'ole is really singing to the men still trapped in the Arizona, and the soldiers and civilians who fell victim to both hostile and friendly fire that day, and really the whole wide world on that day in 1941. A poignant hymn of hope and happiness for those who would never again know such things, and a prayer for those who would suffer in the years to come.
So every time I hear the song now I imagine IZ in a boat in Pearl Harbor, singing to the Arizona Memorial on a dazzling Oahu day, and I think about what the men still trapped underwater 63 years later would have done had they lived, what they would have become, what their dreams had been before they awoke to America's first day of World War II. And tears come to my eyes.