Years ago the Beve and I took our three wee ones to a baseball field in the middle of the small town where we lived. We laid our blankets out with hundreds of other good folks, ate our picnic dinner and waited for the sun to go down. When the sky turned black, the rockets' red flare began; red, blue, green, yellow, purple--you know, every color of the rainbow burst into the sky, like it always does at such moments. Familiar music played behind every shot into the sky, the crowd made appropriate noises at appropriate intervals. And at the end when the music lifted along with the fireworks, and the song, "I'm proud to be an American," roared from the giant speakers, the sky was covered with light, and my heart beat loudly in my chest. I was proud to be an American that night, I felt. At that moment, in that place, with those small town people surrounded by the smell of fried chicken and potato salad, and ice-cream melting in small children's hands, I was more proud than I had ever been. The fireworks had done their job!
Those emotional moments--how patriotic we think them. Standing on the side of streets waving flags at parades, or in the crowd when a great orator speaks, or when the electronic flag flies on a score board at a ballgame, and we sing our anthem in harmony--a harmony of voices trained, untrained, some that shouldn't sing at all. These are the moments we're raised to recognize as patriotic.
But what about the moment in a voting booth, or the ones that precede it reading the voters' pamphlet? Or perhaps exercizing the right NOT to do either of these things? There is the moment a child decides to join the military, or also decides he will never fight, no matter what. Our country was founded on the amazing principle of personal freedom, individual rights, with the hope (ah, the great hope of those men who signed that document that sweltering day in Philadelphia!) that all those who followed would choose well, exercising those freedoms. It's not an emotional thing, though I'm as passionate and emotional as anyone. It's about choice.
So I wade into this public debate that has taken place in our media about the wife of one of the candidates to say that I can understand being more proud this year. There are more people, more interested, more involved, more engaged in being part of the process--registering to vote, debating about candidates, issues (the earth, the war, the economy) than I can remember. We are seeing our country work as those men dreamed it would July 4, 1776. If that's not patriotic, I don't know what is. Like Michelle Obama, I'm more proud than I have ever been...