When Esolen says that eliminating the patriotic is one way to kill the imagination, he is not talking about blind and dangerous zeal for the Fatherland. He is talking about recognizing our connection to history, and knowing that the world did not come into being at the moment of our birth; we were born into it at a particular time and in a particular place. We could have been born at any time, in any place just as my aunt could have been my uncle. We are here. We are now. And this here and now does not exist in isolation. We honor our ancestry by not forgetting it, whether it was good or bad, or as is most likely, both. This is loyalty that recognizes flaws, and loves enough to repent and forgive and work toward something better.
For me this means that I retell the story of Grandma throwing the Thanksgiving turkey at her rotten husband. It means I smile to know that I crochet because of the long line of women who have passed this skill to me. It means that the crucifix that stands stark against the wall on the mantle shelf belongs to this family and this house where my husband was a child. It means that old photographs and old things have a place here. My children are named for people we have loved and still remember. I tell my children about the great cloud of witnesses by which we are surrounded. I am a bard, a historian, a keeper of memories, a singer of songs, a homemaker. So put that in your pipe and smoke it.
I love my country, I do. I love the bigness, the diversity, the natural beauty and the busy cities. I love the people (mostly). I love our outspoken nature. I love our freedoms. I love the fact that this is home. I get misty at the little Memorial Day parade in my town, watching the veterans and scouts, the church congregations and marching bands, the volunteer fire department displaying their newly shined trucks. I teach my kids to pay attention, to smile and wave as I whisper to them how each of these people serves our community and our nation. I tell them to hush and listen as the Lutheran pastor offers a prayer in front of the Catholic church because that’s where the “square” is. I listen carefully to see if he prays in Jesus name. He does. I teach them to place their hands over their hearts as we salute the flag and recite the Pledge, though I wonder if it is fair for me to ask them to make a vow they don’t understand. And I hum this prayer. “America! America! God mend thine every flaw. Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law!”
I didn’t always feel this way. I used to be ashamed whenever those odd feelings of pride, love and loyalty for my country would well up, unbidden, as if I were too smart for those feelings. After all, every intelligent person knows that the United States of America is a global criminal. On the beautiful blue Tuesday that was September 11, 2001, I was working in midtown Manhattan. The patriotism that became obvious following that day, in the most sophisticated of Americans, was something which took me by surprise. The skyscraper in which my company had its primary office, installed a huge American flag in the relatively tiny lobby. I remember that it made me uncomfortable. My boss said that she knew other people who had expressed similar feelings of uneasiness and she was curious why I felt the way I did. I said something along the lines of, “I don’t know. It just seems like patriotism is personal, like religion. This is a place of business and I would as soon put a cross in the lobby as a flag.” That conversation led me on to think, think, think about what I meant by the word personal and how something that had such far-reaching implications as patriotism and religion could be personal. The ideas a person believes affect the way she lives her life including her life in the public realm, so how could they be only personal? The answer is that there is a difference between “personal” and “private.” Yes, they are personal feelings and beliefs, but they are about as private as body odor. Spread the stink.
- I found shades of Salatin in Esolen’s condemnation of “thinking globally.”
- I wonder if it is odd that it is we Americans, with our relatively short history, who find history so grounding and necessary.
Cindy at Ordo Amoris is hosting a book club for Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child by Anthony Esolen, Ph.D.