|Photo Credit: Morguefile by Arker|
This post is a response to the GBE2 prompt: Patriotism.
In the beginning, Lydia could not help but be moved by the emotion of the song. Oh say can you see by the dawn's early light...It swelled up on currents of pride and straight-backed decency that brought a trembling wetness to the eyes of those around her. She watched. This tradition was alien to her and so dear to the hearts of those around her. She sang quietly, a smile teasing up the corners of her lips. Even she did not know what the smile was for. She felt confused.
"It's the flag from the Star Spangled Banner!" Peter would exclaim, clamoring to show as they entered the Post Office door. "Look, Mommy. It's the Grand Old Flag."
"Yes," she agreed. "The flag of the United States."
Lydia had not been raised in another country. She had merely been raised on a commune on the winding seacoast of California. She was, for all that, raised in a different America altogether: America the aggressor, an America who helped to take down democratically elected Salvador Allende and install Pinochet, America of the Long Walk and the Trail of Tears, America of the internment camps, the America of Joseph McCarthy.
Growing up, she did not sing the Star-Spangled Banner. She had never learned the song.
Now things were different. They lived in a small town, in a world where towers fallen still left rubble in the landscape of the nation's mind, and she had chosen to place her only child in public school.
"When they say the pledge," she told Peter," stand up. Put your hand on your heart. Show respect."
"Humph," said Lydia's mother loudly, when she came for Christmas. "Why should he show respect? What is there to respect?"
"He should show respect, " Lydia answered, "because he is five. He doesn't know anything about Vietnam or Watergate or President George W. Bush. He doesn't know about Napalm. He is in kindergarten and he is learning to follow the rules."
A still anger for a moment crossed Lydia's mother's face. "You are teaching him to be a part of something that I worked all my life to pull away from!"
Lydia dropped her eyes. "I want him to be a part of the world."
"I see what you want, " replied her mother and empathy touched her voice. "But I want you to know that it isn't patriotism."
Lydia thought about this for some time, after the holiday decorations had been packed away, as the subject had been dropped and as her mother got on a plane and flew back to California.
She thought about her childhood. It had not been a bad one. She had run like a wild thing amongst oak trees, making tiny dolls of acorns and lichens. She had learned to listen to ravens, to catch bullfrogs. She had taught herself to read, three years too late and grade levels higher than her peers. There had been space. So much space you could lose yourself in it, like tule fog. She had lived in a world that was just as good, but utterly separate. Learning to navigate this one had been hard, the rules obscured and tucked under. She constantly had to tease them out.
This world apart, this abandonment of America inside America, was not patriotism either.
Patriotism, she thought, is something that is rare. It is a quality that cannot be found in a five year-old child, cannot be imparted by curricula or evoked with the use of flags. It is cultivated in the bold consumption of truth and the identification of an enormous group as a family of which one is a part. It is present when the criticism of a nation is self-criticism and joins together with continued hope for something more.
This saluting of a flag, this National Anthem, all of it is immaterial and it is ceremony. There is no reason not to play along. Every group has its traditions. They are part of how we belong.
At the New Year's concert, the school music director began, as always with the National Anthem. Lydia sang louder. It just didn't matter. So she sang as loud as she could.
What does patriotism mean to you? How is patriotism different from nationalism and is patriotism, by necessity, a responsibility that we have as Americans? Is it impossible to be critical of our own country and be patriotic?