There’s a dream in the future. There’s a struggle that we have yet to win. Use that pride in our hearts to lift us up to tomorrow, ’cause just to sit still would be a sin…
This Broadway musical by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman is based upon the 1988 movie, Hairspray. It tells the story of Tracy Turnbladt, a plump teenager living in 1962 Baltimore. Like many musicals who have gone before and after it, this story deals with multiple sets of the prejudices in our culture.
It was remade into a movie in 2007, which is when I came into contact with it (as well as completely fell in love with James Marsden, but I digress…)
This song, I Know Where I’ve Been, comes at the point in the musical when the key TV show, the Corny Collins Show (seemingly similar to American Bandstand), cancels the single day it had set aside for people of color to participate. Having been so empowered to be herself (plump body and all) by her friends in Maybelle’s store, the main heroine, Tracy, suggests that they should march in protest. And this song is what is sung during their march, led by Maybelle herself.
It has references to many of the actual songs of the 1960s, as well as far older hymns like Lift Every Voice and Sing. It remembers all that has already occurred, but that there is light ahead and the end will one day be in sight.
There is a single line in this beautiful anthem that has always struck and stuck with me: just to sit still would be a sin.
With everything that is going wrong in our world – hate run rampant, sexual predators in positions of power, violence in places of worship and schools, entrenchment of political parties, prejudice in all its forms still dominating our culture – it is no wonder that we want focus mainly on self-preservation. But when we do, the divisions among us only grow deeper. We forget that there are people around us in danger, in need of a break, waiting for someone to empower them.
The choice is ours: sit still or actually do something every day, in big ways and small ways, that helps our fellow humans and makes this world a better place. (And for all of our Christian brethren reading this – don’t forget that Jesus chose the later. Every day. Intentionally.)