Canal Water Review

"To teach superstitions as truth is a most terrible thing." Hypatia "Yeah. That pretty much sucks canal water." cwr

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

On Patriotism

An essayist on another site watched a Fourth of July parade yesterday and felt great sadness because America has fallen so far short of her ideals and values. I marched in a Fourth of July parade yesterday and felt great joy that America was still the wonderful nation that I love. How could two people, who likely share the same political philosophy on a number of issues, come to such different conclusions?

It could be because we each experienced two different kinds of parades. I'm guessing that his parade was one of those we could have watched on television with big marching bands, even bigger floats, and one or two celebrities displayed for cachet. My parade was something else altogether.

My parade was led by two young boys in the 10-to-12-year-old range. They each carried a large flag, one the U.S. flag, the other the Texas flag. These flags were on 8-foot poles and had to be carried with the belt do-jigger that helps to hold them up, but they still take a lot of muscle after a very few minutes. These kids struggled, but they made it through two rounds of our entire (but very small) neighborhood.

Before the parade started, all the participants gathered at a neighbors house for coffee and watermelon. (Yes, I thought that was a weird menu, too, but everyone seemed to be happy.) Once the group had gathered, the neighbor who had provided the flags (the big ones for the two boys to carry and lots of little ones for everyone else) asked us to begin with the pledge to the flag. We all put our hands over our hearts and said those precious words. Some folks seemed to put a little extra emphasis on "under God;" some of us just didn't say those two words; it all came out to "liberty and justice for all."

So the little flag bearers led the parade.

Next came me and My Prince. He was the band, and I was the band director. His "instrument" was a monstrous boom box borrowed from a neighbor playing a selection of the "world's greatest marches." My "baton" was an old fishing rod converted to use as a pointer some years ago.

We and the flag bearers were surrounded by maybe eight bike riders, who swirled in and about as the mood struck. The bikes had flags and streamers and whatever else the kids could come up with for decoration. Some kids wore patriotic hats, some wore patriotic shorts. About halfway around the block we had an accident, so the whole parade came to a stop while we tended the (barely) skinned knee of an apparently severely traumatized bike rider. But, a little loving attention from mom, and all was much better. The parade proceeded.

Behind the band came assorted parents and neighbors, mostly just strolling through the neighborhood. Again, there was some patriotic attire, or just a red shirt worn with bluejeans (shorts, of course). One nieghbor had made a "float" out of a roller skate with a broom handle to guide it.

Since a good fourth of the neighborhood was in the parade, that left three-fourths of the neighborhood to be the audience. Most of the audience was either out of town or sleeping late, but still we had some folks sitting outside in lawn chairs. One neighbor heard the "band" and came running out to get his flag on its pole. One neighbor provided a "rest stop" with a cooler full of juice boxes.

The day was already quite warm when our parade began. I was very much over heated by the time we finished, and, despite having done some carb loading before the event, I still wound up with low blood sugar. I was, in fact, beat. I slept for eight hours after we walked back home.

But I was ever so glad to have spent that bit of the morning with my neighbors, giving the kids an active way to celebrate the day's meaning, and reminding myself about why I was so happy to be an American.

I'm happy to be an American because this nation is founded on the concept that all men are created equal. Happily, that concept was eventually understood to mean all men, regardless of "race, creed, or color"--and, I should add, national origin. Even more happily, that concept was eventually brought to include women. It is sad, of course, that some folks in America have not fully embraced the concept of equality. These misguided persons hang on to the prejudices and hates of days gone by, promoting racism, sexism, religious bigotry, and homophobia. I feel sorry for them that their lives are so meaningless that they can only derive some purpose by propagating hate. What miserable creatures they must be. How sad that they cannot experience the wonder of a nation that was deliberately designed to give them a fair shot at life just because they can't stand for someone else to have the same benefit. I'm not sure that these people will ever be changed, but I am comforted to realize that they are only a small (though sick) minority of my fellow Americans. And I am comforted to realize that, as a nation, we have been slowly but steadily making sure that the concept of equality really does extend to all of our citizens.

I am happy to be an American because, as an American, I have the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The constitutional guarantees of the Bill of Rights are most precious. While those protections are often under attack--and while they are sometimes uncomfortable in their exercise--they are guarantors of a way of life that is precious and unique on this planet. Of course, I am saddened by the degree to which my fellow countrymen seem so callously unconcerned about protecting these same rights. Like frightened rabbits, rather than defend their country and the principles on which it was founded, they surrender rights for the illusion of safety. Still, I know that even today there are great patriots among us who will fight--with pen or sword--to defend those same rights, even for the sake the frightened rabbits. I hope I am one of those patriots, for I do so believe that these rights are precious--and inalienable.

I am happy to be an American because I just think that red, white, and blue are excellent colors and make an excellent flag. The stars and stripes never fail to move me. Perhaps I was taught that by my father. My mother still tells the story about how we had turned on the old black and white TV in our tiny den to watch a ball game. When the national anthem began, I stood up in and put my hand over my heart as I had been taught to do--but not at home and not for something on television. Perhaps it is because I have lived in other countries that are less welcoming to the liberties that we take so casually. In those countries, nothing could be so welcome as the sight of our flag. In Dar es Salaam, I passed by our embassy each day--the same one that was later attacked by Al Qaeda--and was grateful to see the flag that flew atop the building. At night, it was especially comforting to see the spotlighted flag and remind myself that I would eventually be going home, and what a better home it was. Perhaps it is because one of my first reactions to the Attacks on 9/11 was to say, "Honey, we need to put the flag out." It hasn't been down since (although we did have to replace the old one with a new one a few months ago). Now I see it every day--my flag, my statement to the world that I stand for my country and liberty and justice for all.

Now, it's sad that some folks see flying the flag as a political statement to be directed toward other Americans. What are they saying?


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