May 30, 2008

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Pray America remains what so proudly we hail

Cynthia DewesDo you suppose the British feel the same swell of patriotic feeling when hearing “God Save the Queen” that most of us do when we hear “The Star-Spangled Banner?”

Theirs is certainly a grand and noble piece, unlike the tinny Cuban national anthem I heard on TV recently.

Still, I won’t criticize any country’s national anthem because of its sound.

After all, many of them are based on things like raunchy folksongs or drinking songs or some other catchy tune. And the words written for them are often strange, if not ridiculous, if you really listen to them.

I mean, why should we get all misty-eyed at the sound of “bombs bursting in air,” or “rockets’ red glare”? How relevant are those things to feeling proud of one’s country? As for “the dawn’s early light,” that’s not a time of day I can relate to, either.

Patriotism seems, then, to be in the ear (or eye) of the beholder. It is funny what triggers that feeling, and not all of us react the same way to the same stimuli.

Another national event which makes my heart swell and the hairs rise on my neck, is voting, as we did recently and will again in November.

From the first time I voted (for Ike!) long ago, I have been thrilled to take part in this process. I love the drama of being proselytized by party zealots outside the polls, signing in and being identified, and I have done it every way possible, from marking paper ballots to touching computerized screens.

The political results of my voting have not always pleased me, and I have been disappointed in the person elected more than once. Still, it is something I consider not only a duty but a privilege. Complaining about America and not voting is, to me, like complaining about ideas in a book we have not read.

Patriotism shouldn’t be based on the swelling of our hearts, however, but on genuine feelings of pride and optimism for our country. Teaching the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag or reading about the heroic founding fathers in grade school won’t make us genuinely patriotic, either. Rather, it takes years of observation of who we are and what we are about as a nation.

I have lived long enough to know that America is a generous country dedicated to creating the best life possible for everyone who lives here. We welcome immigrants, which is all of us, including the Native Americans, who arrived farther back than the rest of us.

I have treasured the beauty of this nation as many other Americans do. I have witnessed Americans fighting for the welfare of people in other countries and assisting them afterward. And I have experienced the opportunities offered by America as well as seeing its rewards in the lives of others.

Unfortunately we live in a time when we are often disappointed in our political leaders, in our behavior in the world and in the culture of selfishness which permeates our country. The values we thought were immutably American seem to be eroded, and we fear for the future welfare of our children and grandchildren.

Those values are still worth fighting and dying for. Hard work, common sense and concern for others, those things form the essence of America.

We must ask God constantly to protect this grand experiment in which we are lucky enough to participate.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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