I’m not a professional writer.
It’s something I rarely do, but once in a while, I feel the Spirit move me, and there I am. First and foremost, I like to write, but only when I do so on my terms. I have some sort of rakish ability to string words together in an effective way. I know that sometimes, it even moves people. I compare it to musical improvisation, only without the music. Second, writing is therapeutic. If I can organize my thoughts on a page, it helps me to sift through them as I go. I can solidify what exactly is going on in my head and heart, and then a strange ease begins to calm me. So, with a lump still in my throat from the past two days, I’ll begin…
There is a phenomenon that has been slowly spreading across our country for the past few years. It may not seem like a big deal to most people, but it’s there in plain sight. I’ve never tried to put it into words on “paper” until now. The only way I know to write it is to describe a past scene.
It took place during a conversation I had with my youngest brother, Andrew, a couple of years ago. We were in Lawrence, KS, where he often spends time with his fiancée, Michael. We were window shopping on a strangely warm day in January. As we walked, Andrew turned and said to me, “You know, there’s a word that has been hijacked by our country, and it has me upset. The word is “patriot”. It reminds me of the way the world hijacked the word, “queer” back in the 80s, and made it into an ugly word.”.
Just then, a pick up truck with an American flag mounted to the bed, and no working muffler attached, came roaring by, and it was right there in front of me, staring at me from the “MAGA” sticker in the bottom left cab window.
Right now, we have collectively and unwittingly subscribed to the idea that unless you agree to “make America great again” (whatever THAT means), buy into Q-anon, or regurgitate whatever conspiracy is the flavor of the day, you are not a patriot. You are somehow unAmerican.
It shames me to know that this assemblage is spitting venom out into the world. This is what many people believe our country is. Or what it should be. The truth and the trouble is that this is the loudest group out there!
I wore an Army uniform for nearly 21 years. I’ve been in war zones. I’ve had “bad guys” try to shoot me, and try to take down my plane with missiles. I have been on stage when mortar attacks took place around me. I’ve sought shelter in concrete bunkers with my old NY Bach trumpet in one hand (the same horn I’m playing now in the funniest show on Broadway – shameless plug!), and a loaded M-16 rifle in the other, waiting for the “all clear”. I have sacrificed my known way of life for 20+ years to represent the best our country has to offer to the world, and to be a patriot by every definition I know. I did my part.
But, I feel like there’s a group of people out there that will not allow me to use that descriptor because I don’t spew their twisted dogma. This is not only ignorant, but it’s very sad. I’m sure I’m not the only veteran who feels like this.
Patriots embody and embrace their nation in its entirety – not just the white or male or convenient part. They further their country. They don’t step back in time. They encourage new ideas, and foster growth representative of the entire and often messy melting pot. They don’t simply shut it down due to unfamiliarity and fear. They have discussions, sometimes heated and passionate ones.
What they don’t do is turn their fellow countryman or countrywoman into a display piece for their pummeling convenience. That’s not what patriotism is.
Presently, I cringe when I hear someone described as a true “patriot” because 99.9% of the time, the person being described is receiving this praise for doing nothing but hating someone else.
How do we take the word back?
First of all, the right has to stop using it as a blanket descriptor for their supporters! Stop spoon feeding it like it’s some secret handshake. It’ll probably never happen, but I can dream.
Also, you are not a patriot just because you watch Fox News, fly a “Blue Lives Matter” flag or drive a loud-ass pick up truck down the road with a mounted American flag. That tells me a lot about you, but it does not scream patriotism.
Of course all lives matter. But right now, the group of people that need that battle cry the most is the black population. By far, they are disproportionately being bludgeoned, many times, quite literally. Can’t we extend a hand or an olive branch even once? Is pride that prominent?
You are a patriot if you act like an American, and you support the concept of freedom and opportunity for everyone, not just the people that look like you. That might mean you have to hear things you don’t like. You might have to hear about the bumps and bruises the fledgling country sported along the way. It might hurt. But get over yourselves! It happened.
Why can’t we be true patriots and embrace the people behind the faces? There are unique and fascinating stories behind every set of eyes. You just have to encourage enough trust in them to help them remove the mask.
And by the way, can we take back our flag while we are at it? I want to fly my American flag and feel good about it.
Sadly, I can’t do that right now. I feel like the window is closing. This country is not sustainable in the direction it is going, and I’m personally having a really hard time with that. It affects every part of me, including the funny, creative side that is my coping mechanism.
At some point, something will break, for all of us.