We will be Stronger

“When I get older I will be stronger

They’ll call me freedom just like a wavin’ flag…” 

That’s my latest earworm, taken from K’naan’s 2010 anthem “Waving Flag.” If you’ve forgotten it, or never heard it, give it a listen. It’s a brilliant beating heart of a song, with a sobering dose of poverty and conflict and hope and how, at least some of us, can transcend the wars around us. Not all of us have the chance, choice or mindset to escape war, a devastating reality so many people and countries wake to each day. 

I didn’t know the song came out over a decade ago, and that it was attached to the 2010 World Cup, or Coca-Cola commissioned a version of it that was watered down for that World Cup, stripping mentions of war and refugee life, leaving only the sheen of hope. My kids brought the song home recently and, much like a cold, it wasn’t there and then it was there, coming on slowly at first like a sniffle, then fast, until we were infected, listening to it every breakfast, car ride, and it became our de facto dinner song, cooking to it, all of us gathering in the kitchen to be absorbed by it like the aromas of the food cooking around us.

Two years into a pandemic and I can’t shake the opening lines, “When I get older I will be stronger.” Mainly, I’m older. But I don’t feel stronger. Most of us likely don’t feel stronger. And as I try and process the many reasons why I don’t feel that same sense of strength I did two years ago, I find hope in a decades old song by a Somali-Canadian artist. I find hope in my kids, who introduced me to the song and the story behind it. My 9 and 10 year old tastemakers, who shun the Coca-Cola version and complain when I play it by mistake, are already searching for authenticity in the stories they engage with.  

K’naan’s grandfather was a renowned poet in Somalia, and he gave him those opening lines. K’nann built his voice atop his grandfathers, and his grandfather was influenced by generation that came before him. Truth is timeless, as are great stories, the young inspiring the old, the old inspiring the young, pandemics, wars, decades become centuries and little is left of us but the impressions we leave on those around us, and who will survive us. 

K’naan shared his story, and the story of “Waving Flag,” in a children’s book released in 2012. My daughter recently bought it for my son for his birthday, coming up with the idea on her own. We read it as a family first. Days later, as my wife and I read in bed, we heard, through my son’s bedroom door, him reading the book to himself, then singing the lyrics to “Waving Flag” in the quiet of his Canadian bedroom, inspired by the journey of words and songs, finding strength and compassion in them. 

“When I get older I will be stronger

They’ll call me freedom just like a wavin’ flag…”


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