Monday, November 29, 2010

Not a Wet Eye in the House

     What I am, is an observer of human behavior...always have been.  I majored in Sociology, which, yes, yes, yes, we all know is the easiest major known to mankind.  Still, I really loved it.  It's the study of groups of people.   It's the reason I know words like "outlier" or "skew" or "cohort".  My nursing career included many years in mental health.  Human behavior just fascinates me....why do people do what they do?  I tend to watch people and how they behave.  Sometimes, I wish I didn't.

     Being an ancient, I miss having little kids and all the fun that comes with them.  Happily, life has given me eight fabulous, smart and adorable grandchildren (no, really).  Four girls, and four boys.  I get to be a part of their lives and recapture a time in my life when my own kids were busy with sports, and homework, scouts, and activities.  Sometimes, now, when my grandchildren's folks are busy at work, and can't get away, I am the substitute event-attender at award ceremonies and school programs.  This is a duty I cherish.

     It's November.  I was invited by two of my grandkids to their Patriot's Day Program commemorating and honoring our heroes and veterans.  They were both granddaughter with the school chorus, and my grandson with his third grade class.

     The theme was patriotism.  For my generation, born and raised just after World War II, this concept is pretty clear.  It was part of our upbringing at home and at school.  To this day I can still sing most of the lyrics to the Army, Navy, Marine, and Air Force anthems.  Of course. many of us were directly affected by that sister's daddy didn't come husband's dad came home with bad dreams and dark moods.

     As school children we were taught about the Patriots who founded our country and our Constitution..and how they incorporated liberty, honor, bravery, independence, and human rights to life and to expression into our every day.  We grew up on lessons, stories, books, and movies about courage, sacrifice, heroism, and selflessness.   Love of country..respect for others.

     Of course, in the 60+ years since the end of World War II, we have continued to produce heroes and patriots when our country has been at war or in crisis, or just in extraordinary circumstances.  I was heartened to know that our schools continue to respect and honor our heroes and patriots and that these concepts are not only being taught to our youngsters, but that the kids were excited to express this knowledge proudly in their program.

     I arrived just as the program was starting.  It was outside, standing room only.  Packed.  I didn't get the pre-program flyer..but obviously the parents did.  They were all dressed in red, white and blue.  Wow, I thought.  I am so proud to be here.

     The Assistant Principal welcomed us, introduced local patriots from law enforcement, the fire department and all branches of the armed services, and then invited all of us to join her in singing the National Anthem.

     The patriots, teachers and chorus sang and so did I.  The audience stood silent.

     I looked around...there were people dressed in our honored colors everywhere.  They shifted restlessly, glancing at times in the direction of the flag of the United States of America.  Land of the free.  Home of the brave.  One young woman took her eyes off the flag and made a 180 degree turn to momentarily check me out.  "Read my lips," I thought, "what so proudly we hailed, at the twilight's last gleaming.."  C'mon, be a rebel, I know you can do it!!!!

     The Assistant Principal then asked us to join in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States of the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and  justice for all.

     As I spoke the words, I saw a guy in the audience place his hand over his heart and felt a nudge of hope...but the crowd continued to stare at the flag, stone faced...marking time?   For what?  I thought.  The good stuff has started...this is part of the program!

     The kids began their singing program.  Well, now.  THAT woke folks up.

     Out came two hundred video cameras.  The parents of the children singing moved in and recorded the songs for posterity.  Presumably, to watch later...maybe they would catch a word or two of the song then.  It didn't seem to matter that they stepped in front of the rest of us, who might want to see our kids..most of the crowd began texting, talking on cells, or chatting with neighbors until their kid's class sang the next patriotic song.  Standard procedure, apparently.

     Now, I cry when kids sing.  It doesn't matter what they sing.  They can be singing in Cantonese on PBS....or about re-using paper bags at the local "Recycle" program.  Their precious, young, innocent, earnest, trusting voices send me over the edge.  I believe our schools do a really good job of assisting children to relate through these programs to their responsibilities as citizens and to our American traditions.  Our children have such potential to make this world a better, safer, nicer place.  I tear up because it so touches my heart.

     So...when the program ended with a dramatic resounding rendition of "I'm Proud to be an American" from the fifth grade class I was puzzled.  I stood there clutching at the lump in my throat and noted that I did not see one Kleenex being sneaked from a pocket....or one nose being steathily wiped on a sleeve.  Just tolerant stares...and the relentless video cameras plus more than one sappy Stepford smile. 

     The parents politely applauded and then just like that...the cameras disappeared...and a mad red,white, and blue-streaked dash for the car whizzed in front of me.


     Is it me?  I think we have literally lost our senses.  Are we Americans totally blind to the magnificence and rarity of living FREE?  Do we just assume that people in Darfur went to their children's school program today too?  Or that in Somalia their biggest problem is what to bring for soccer snacks?  Do we have any comprehension of what we have we got it...and how precarious it is to hold on to?  Our patriots are dying out there, maybe today, to ensure that we have school programs to go to tomorrow.  Are we totally freakin' numb?  Deaf?  Dumb?

     When did it become uncouth to sing the National Anthem?  Lame, to recite the Pledge of Allegiance?  When did it become an embarrassment to proclaim our pride and loyalty to our country?  When did we lose the emotional connection to the brilliance and the originality and the democratic success story that IS the United States of America? 

     When did we become so entrenched in our belongings that we decided to record our kid's songs and watch them some other time rather than to really listen to the words, to get the goose bumps, to feel the pride, to experience the gratitude, the privilege, the joy of being an American among Americans celebrating our shared heritage of valiance and heroism with the youngsters who are our future hope?

     How are THEY supposed to feel it.....if WE don't?

     How will THEY sing the words and affirm their loyalty....if WE don't?

     It looks so much like indifference, doesn't it?  It smells so much like apathy, doesn't it?  It feels so much like complacence, doesn't it?  Get real...think about this.  Truly...isn't this more devastatingly dangerous to our country than any terrorist plot? 

     This isn't about being spectators...this is about being Americans.  Stand up folks.  Sing the words loud and clear for your children and for the world to hear.  Speak the pledge, folks.  Show the future of America what you mean.  What YOU stand for.   Proclaim that you care.   

You do care.....right?