Tuesday, November 6, 2012

America and Patriotism

I voted today.

It was awesome. I felt so American. As I left Provo Peaks Elementary School, I pulled out the old music maker, rolled down my windows, and cranked this song as loud as I could while cruising the streets of Provo:

Naturally I was singing along as loud as I could as well. People were looking at me funny, but I didn't care. Because this is America. When Neil got done I turned it on over to this song:

Yes, I know it's a Vietnam protest song and not necessarily "patriotic." But that's the thing, protest is patriotic. You know 1st amendment and free speech and all that jazz. It's patriotic. like voting. And I voted today. Plus, people often think that it's a patriotic song. What's more American than being wrong about what a song means and then stubbornly owning it and not caring what people think about your interpretation of the song because you know you're right and ain't nothin' no one can do to change your mind. This is America!

When that song got over I decided that I needed an all-American lunch. My original plan today was dino chicken nuggets, but that didn't seem American enough. I mean, dinosaurs are worldwide. Nothing wrong with being worldwide, but I voted today, and this is America. So as Bruce got done, I put on some Ray:

and I made my way to get myself some real American lunch:

Yeah,  Big Mac. With a large fry. And a large, sugary soda. None of that diet crap. And even though I was pretty much done with the meal when I was about halfway through, I ate the whole thing anyway. Because this is America, and no one is going to dictate to me how much I should eat, not even my own appetite. I do what I want. It's a free country. This is America!

Alright, tongue-in-cheekiness aside, I actually really do love America and feel great patriotism for this country. Let me illustrate as best I can why I think America is so awesome with an anecdote. A couple of summers ago I was down in Emery with my family over the 24th of July, which of course is the biggest party day in Utah. For those of you unfamiliar with Emery, it's a small town in the middle of the South-central Utah desert. It has a population about about 200 people...and that number is ever-diminishing as the old folks in town pass on. Seriously, there are a lot of old people. My brother-in-law Graham once joked after going to church there one Sunday that he wanted to move to Emery and sell oxygen tanks because he'd make bank. It was funny because it's true.

Anyway, whenever possible my family likes to go down to Emery over the 24th to celebrate with the town because their festivities are second to none. One of the best parts of the town's festivities is the parade. As a family we often laugh as we remember the year that the parade traversed the parade route twice because the route was so short and there were so few participants. Anyway, this particular year my family and I were sitting across the street from the city park as we watched the parade go by. Now if you've never watched a parade with my family, you're missing out because it's a lot of fun. We scream and shout and cheer and generally make fools of ourselves, but we have a lot of fun doing it.

We were laughing and carrying on as we usually do as the Emery High School band came marching up the road playing one of those songs that all high school marching bands play. As they marched to where they were right in front of my family, they stopped and turned their backs on us. Someone wryly commented that they were shunning the out-of-towners (us), and we all laughed. But as they started playing Yankee Doodle I realized that they had stopped in that exact spot, and turned as they had for a reason. They'd done it in order to face the little memorial monument and flagpole that remembers all the young men from the small town of Emery who have served their country in the armed forces during wartime. As the band played, I thought of the dozens of young men from Emery, my grandfather included, who had answered their country's call to serve and protect throughout the years. Because my grandpa served in World War II, I thought about how during that war particularly, the young men who signed up to fight consisted of an entire generation of the hope of this small town. They were the future. They had the world open before them, and yet, even in this small and often forgotten corner of the nation, these young men decided that their country came first. Uncle Sam needed their help and they responded.

This naturally led me to think of the millions of veterans across the country, and the many small towns just like Emery who likely had similar stories. As I thought about this, the band, which I had momentarily forgotten, finished playing “She’s a Grand Ol’ Flag” and struck up “America the Beautiful.” The image-ridden lyrics of this great American standard ran through my mind, and the implicit appeal to God’s grace, in conjunction with my thoughts of the sacrifice of the millions of proud Americans that have served in our armed forces, brought a lump to my throat. I was never more proud and grateful to be an American. 

On days like today, as I fulfill my civic duty, I can't help but to think of fifth grade when my teacher Mrs. Plazier gave us an assignment to memorize Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. This was one of the most impacting experiences that I had during the formative years of my youth. To this day, some 15 years later, I can still recite the words of the Gettysburg Address, and those words have had a large impact on the development and maintenance of my American patriotism. One particular section sticks out to me as it describes the ideal of freedom and our collective cause as freedom-loving citizens:

"It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought              here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." 

Freedom was the cause Lincoln was talking about. He was fighting a war over whether freedom extended to all men and women regardless of race. He wanted to make it abundantly clear that liberty is indeed one of mankind’s God-given and unalienable rights. In reflecting on this, I have realized that America’s dedication to this cause is what really sparks the flame of my love of country. For centuries the huddled masses have clamored to our shores in search of a place where freedom is practiced and preached. They’ve come in search of a land where they might make something of themselves no matter the station in which they were born. Though the phrase is trite and a bit hackneyed, they come in search of a "land of opportunity." The cause of freedom is the essence of what it is to be American. That is what I love. Lincoln wasn’t content to let the soldiers on the field take up the fight for freedom while the rest of the nation sat back on its haunches and watched. Lincoln’s call to action and dedication to this cause was intended for the rest of the nation. It was intended for us. He was challenging the people of his time to take up the torch of freedom and live valiantly by its tenets. His challenge, though delivered 145 years ago, remains as true for us today as it was for them then.

As I go off rhapsodizing about America, and freedom and patriotism, I realize that I'm probably coming across like one of those uninformed idealists who embraces American exceptionalism and refuses to acknowledge that America can or ever has done anything wrong. That's not the case. I know we have a bit of a pock-marked past. It hasn't always been sunshine and roses, and there are aspects to American culture and society that I frankly don't agree with at all. But that's the beauty of it all, we don't have to all think the same things. We can disagree. We can fight with each other. We can protest if we like. We can, and should, think critically about the way things are done and ask ourselves if there isn't a better way. I'm not saying that this is the way all nations should be run; frankly I think that's absurd. But it works for us here, and I think it works wonderfully. Yeah Congress is full of a bunch cotton-headed ninny-mugginses who can't get anything done, and I'm not real keen on the uber-partisan hacks on both sides of the aisle who preach their political agendas as if they spoke the word of God. Yeah I'd like to see changes and reforms in our education programs and immigration laws and campaign-funding laws and any number of other issues that I think aren't working right. But the beauty of America is that we can make those changes. We're free to work through these issues. None of us really knows for certain the absolute truth of what's best in every situation, but we can all work together to try and figure it out. Or we can refuse to work together and fight and yell at each other. We can choose. We can do what we want. And I love it.

I realize it's not cool to be patriotic, and I may be falling victim to what Kenneth Burke calls "Identification by Inaccuracy" here, but I don't care. I love America. And I voted today.

Now I'm gonna go lay on the couch and try not to puke up a Big Mac and fries.


  1. This is the only time Neil Diamond is okay. Ever.

  2. A couple weeks ago we read Walt Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," which is beautiful in full, but when Trent read the following part, he cried, and a few of the rest of us teared up with him:

    O what shall I hang on the chamber walls?
    And what shall the pictures be that I hang on the walls, 80
    To adorn the burial-house of him I love?

    Pictures of growing spring, and farms, and homes,
    With the Fourth-month eve at sundown, and the gray smoke lucid and bright,
    With floods of the yellow gold of the gorgeous, indolent, sinking sun, burning, expanding the air;
    With the fresh sweet herbage under foot, and the pale green leaves of the trees prolific; 85
    In the distance the flowing glaze, the breast of the river, with a wind-dapple here and there;
    With ranging hills on the banks, with many a line against the sky, and shadows;
    And the city at hand, with dwellings so dense, and stacks of chimneys,
    And all the scenes of life, and the workshops, and the workmen homeward returning.


    Lo! body and soul! this land! 90
    Mighty Manhattan, with spires, and the sparkling and hurrying tides, and the ships;
    The varied and ample land—the South and the North in the light—Ohio’s shores, and flashing Missouri,
    And ever the far-spreading prairies, cover’d with grass and corn.

    Lo! the most excellent sun, so calm and haughty;
    The violet and purple morn, with just-felt breezes; 95
    The gentle, soft-born, measureless light;
    The miracle, spreading, bathing all—the fulfill’d noon;
    The coming eve, delicious—the welcome night, and the stars,
    Over my cities shining all, enveloping man and land.


    Sing on! sing on, you gray-brown bird! 100
    Sing from the swamps, the recesses—pour your chant from the bushes;
    Limitless out of the dusk, out of the cedars and pines.

    Sing on, dearest brother—warble your reedy song;
    Loud human song, with voice of uttermost woe.

    O liquid, and free, and tender! 105
    O wild and loose to my soul! O wondrous singer!
    You only I hear......yet the star holds me, (but will soon depart;)
    Yet the lilac, with mastering odor, holds me.

    Why is that so touching? Well, because I think it touches the string in us that acknowledges that for all its frustrations and problems and shady pasts and scars, this is a beautiful, beautiful country, and it is worth our passion and deserving of our respect.

  3. I think you're cool Sammy! I voted and it did feel awesome, just like you said. I may or may not have teared up at the polls thinking about how hard people worked to give me freedom and the opportunity, as a woman, to have my vote count!

    Thanks, as always, for your beautiful words.