Graduation struck me in a way I had not anticipated. It made me think a lot about many things. I am not a fan of war. I am not a lover of conflict. In fact, I flee from conflict whenever possible. I was reared in a family that has generational military ties. Not career, mind you, and not hard-core pro-military, but we were reared with an awareness that service is noble and necessary for the security of all Americans. How, I wondered, did I end up with a soldier son?
I was reared on the patriotic songs that many of us know by heart and that more of us should know now, and do not. I remember singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, You're a Grand Old Flag, My Country 'Tis of Thee, America the Beautiful, and of course The Star Spangled Banner in the car with my sisters and my father. They were things we shared together driving around the county I still inhabit, driving in late summer through amber waves of grain and toward the purple mountains as we sang about them. Those songs were as familiar and as stirring and as emotional as the hymns we sang in church on Sunday and the Christmas songs we sang from the end of November until January 1st. I shared them with my children on our drives, assisted by an 80's Wee Sing America cassette and songbook (I wish I still had this.).
My intent was to create loyal, aware, thinking people, with respect for their traditions and beginnings and an awareness of their duty and responsibility in being specifically an American person. But I also taught them about the not so great parts of our heritage; how exactly we had come to be on this continent, the people we had hurt and killed to stay here, the land and humanity we had thoughtlessly plundered and exploited. It's an odd upbringing they had, and not really one that would necessarily lead them to consider the military as a career.
We had a flag that we treated correctly. We watched presidential inaugurations. We discussed the electoral college, taxes, individual freedom, rights and responsibilities. Freedom isn't free, and it should not be free for anyone. You do not respect or appreciate what you do not suffer for or work to earn. Sometimes we said things about America and Americans that were less than complimentary, even if they were completely honest.
We talked about selfless service to others; about giving to others for the sake of giving. Giving back but in the way that Jesus taught us to. ("But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." Matt 6:3-4). Altruism was the name of the game, and it extended beyond people to the natural world around us. If you fail to recognize and respond to the suffering of the living things around you, how are you better than the animals?
I tried to raise them with respect. Although there were times when it was a significant challenge, I tried to model the respect for others that I wanted to see in them. Simple things. You don't need to be first in line. Hold the door for others. Say please and thank you, and mean it. Acknowledge the humanity of those around you in a way that shows that you value them.
Integrity is huge for me and my children were reared with it. Be truthful. Do the right thing, even when those around you do not. I believe in God, and I believe in moral truths and the concept of right and wrong. Some things are just wrong. Don't do them. Other things are right. Do those instead. It's really very simple. If it will hurt another person, do not do it. If it fails to show respect for another person, don't do it. And don't lie. It will only make things worse in the long run. I made them make restitution if they hurt others.
I tried to teach them to face their fears head on and not run from them. As Roosevelt said, we have nothing to fear but fear itself. In fact, the fear of the thing is often worse than whatever it is we are afraid of. This is a hard one for me; I tend to be a fearful person. I hate to fly. I don't like new situations. I am afraid of people in large groups. Cities make me edgy. Public transportation scares me. I like small, confined, controlled environments - you should see my hotel room when I travel. Everything must be just so. This was something I could only teach them by example. I confronted people I was afraid of and told them to get out of my way. I went to college. I made friends. I got on an airplane. I wrote books. I went to New York, and I rode public transportation. Sometimes my example wasn't the best - as evidenced by a minor meltdown in 2000 in Orlando International before boarding - but I did the things I feared and came out the other side a better person.
What I didn't realize while I was doing all this bizarre (I am, remember, a bit of a freak) blend of moral, values-laden, pro-Republic, Libertarian, crunchy-granola, tree-hugging, Jesus-loving, natural-child-led-homeschooled-child-rearing was that I was apparently beating into them, with my many failures and flaws, core Army values. As I stood in the stadium at Hilton Field at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina and I heard the songs of my nation over the speakers above, and I saw the flag that represents who we were, who we are, and who we should be on the field before me I found myself discovering, or perhaps rediscovering, a new sense of patriotism and nationalism. I know - that's a dirty word in some circles now, isn't it? Maybe I should whisper it, for safety...Nationalism. Or maybe I should just pick my head up and yell it. Regardless.
There are approximately 1.5 million active US military serving all around the world. The population of the United States was most recently calculated to be around 310 million. 1.5 million people defending us, 1.5 million people defending others, 1.5 million people doing their duty, heeding a call, obeying a chain of command that they may not always agree with or support but that they recognize as their authority. I don't always like or approve of what our military or our government does. I am, for example, fanatical about liberty, freedom, and individual rights in a country that seems to be increasingly intrusive and legalistic and that seems at times bent on dictating my every liberty - which wasn't the plan in the beginning and it confuses and confounds me that it has become what it has.
But what I discovered, or more rightly remembered, on that field on Wednesday was that for better or worse and in spite of all of her many flaws and failings (and I do believe they are many) we still have the best game going (see. Nationalism!) and we owe it to ourselves and our children and our children's children to make it better (Patriotism!). America the beautiful. Land of the free, home of the brave.
Now if you will excuse me, I think I shall go and knit something red white and blue, and wear it with pride.