PATRIOTISM IN A NEW LIGHT
When I was in junior high school, I wrote an essay for class on the subject of what America means to me. I don’t remember much about it except that I had already been branded by the five paragraph essay so popularly taught in our schools, and I had adhered to its tenets offering an introduction, three paragraphs explaining my three reasons, and a last paragraph summarizing my already stated thesis.
The essay won an award from a local American Legion group, and my writing career began in earnest. So it is ironic at this stage of my life, I would be writing on basically the same topic. As I write today my ideas of patriotism are more sophisticated as well as my graduation from the banal five paragraph essay, which, unfortunately, many adults have not been cured from.
It would seem obvious that everything about “patriotism” must have been written or spoken by the millions of students from elementary school to college who have been challenged to write on this subject; however, it is my hope that I my offer something a little different to think about.
Reading Mike Brown’s “Pluto and Why I Killed It,” I was intrigued by his discussion of the definition of a planet. In defining it, he alluded to geologists who have to deal with inanimate objects all the time: mountain, sea, lake, pond, continent, river, stream, brook, to name just a few. His conclusion was that many entities defy scientific scrutiny, including planets.
What’s a pond? To me it’s a duck pond near where I live that covers about one half acre. Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond, however, covered 16 acres and is 1.7 miles in circumference. When I saw the storied site for the first time, I was shocked. To me it was a small lake.
In other words, my mountain is your hill, and your lake is my sea. In short, things mean what people decide they mean.
That’s why it is dangerous to celebrate an abstract concept like a country or even an idea of a country. The glorious freedom of speech that I would point to is a right to slander for another person who celebrates the same freedom.
Patriotism is all about the people who live in a common place. It is the recognition of them as human beings, most of whom have decided to live by the same laws. Some of these people we like, and some of them we despise, but we have taken the rather novel position that we are not going to war against our fellow citizens because we dislike them or disagree with their ideas.
Standing straight for the National Anthem or reciting the Pledge isn’t patriotism. Those rites are easy to practice and call for practically no commitment except a few minutes of silence and the recitation of some words, most of which people pay no mind to anyway.
It’s the people that we choose to live in peace with that makes us patriotic. Whether their mountain is 1699 ft. (Weatherby Hill Mountain, PA) or 5,000 ft in elevation (Weatherby Mountain, OR); whether they live by the Mighty Mississippi River or hear the quiet trickle of Fern River in Felton, CA, they still call this place they live their home.
The definition of patriotism requires no ornamentation; it is simple. This is where we choose to hang our hats. Where else would we want to go?