Have you noticed how cool it is to hate our country lately? I mean… unless you are a staunch, Bush-loving, republican and sing Toby Keith songs at the top of your lungs, that is….
It seems that most people, if told they were very patriotic, would hang their head in embarassment. It seems to me that the word ‘patriotism’ has come to mean that we blindly follow our Political Leaders believing they can do no wrong. I think that’s a bunch of bunk.
It seems like it’s only considered ‘cool’ or ‘intellectual’ to focus on the tremendous atrocities our government has had a hand in… And I’m not ignoring those. It seems some would have us believe that it is only right to flagellate ourselves collectively for being materialistic, SUV driving, MacDonald’s eating, pigs.
I think both camps are really missing the point here.
I sat at church today and listened to a genre of music that in general, I really hate. It’s the “Brassy, Bouncy, Pompy Church Special Music” genre. You know what I’m talking about. And I squirmed all the way through it… The church did a special presenentation in honor of the fourth of July. Cheesy powerpoint pictures, cheesy music, cheesy renditions of all the standard patriotic songs. But since I didn’t get a lot out of the program itself, I had a lot of time to sit and think.
The thing is, I looked around me, and I saw all these people leaning in–listening. I saw what this poorly-produced music meant to these men and women sitting around me. And I wondered why. I saw these weathered men, that I know to be veterans standing proudly singing the Star-Spangled Banner. Two of them even wore their old Army Uniforms–complete with very impressive displays of medals.
We are a Navy town. A large percentage of our church members are active duty military members or veterans. We take holidays like Independence Day pretty seriously.
I saw the weathered faces of these elderly men standing in their uniforms. I saw the humbly, radiant face of the blind, elderly, man who is escorted to his seat each week and now lives in a home for the disabled, and I learned when he stood up to be honored that he is a veteran who served in the Air Force.
I sat and listened to this musical offering that seemed so cheap, and I thought about their stories. I looked at their weathered faces, and squared shoulders, automatically standing at attention during The National Anthem, and I wondered what they could tell us about serving our country. I wondered what they’d seen. I wondered why they’d fought.
The choir sang a song with the words of Emma Lazarus’s poem, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” I thought of the immigrant slums that sprung up in our cities–full of people coming to find refuge and a better life only to break their backs to feed their families. I thought of the hope that they saw in America. And the conditions they worked through to make that hope a reality.
I thought of the Civil Rights leaders in America–fighting for equality for all Americans. Black or White. Woman or Man.
And I realized–it is on the backs of these incredible people that we stand. These are the stories of our country. This is what “Patriotism” is all about.
Why don’t we tell those stories anymore? Are we all too busy to listen? Have we begun to define our American Culture as nothing more than a place where people won’t give up their SUVs, but complain about gas-prices… A place with a struggling economy, but riches far and above what a large percentage of the world will ever see. Do we define ourselves only in terms of our materialism and selfishness? Have the PC Mongers convinced us that the only true stories of history were the ones that involved the larger institution of our government opressing the down-trodden folk of other races and creeds, and thus lost sight of the ideals that really did undergird our country? Why are we letting these things define us?
Why have we lost sight of the stories? Why don’t we listen to them anymore? What would the voices tell us if we listened? These ordinary people who made our country. Who sweat, and toiled in factories. Who served in wars like we’ve never seen–where a large percentage of those who served alongside you did not return–numbers that make the incredibly tragic losses that we’ve seen in our current conflict seem paltry.
If we could remember the stories would we stand taller as Americans–regardless of our political affiliation? Would we realize the legacy that has been placed on our own shoulders and work to make sure our kids can take pride in their country as well?
I don’t think Toby Keith should be allowed to define today’s patriotism. I think we need to start listening to the stories of the people who believed in this country’s greatness enough to make it reflect their belief. We need to remember where we came from and honor it. Because “patriotism” should not be a dirty word.