While listening to my favorite sports talk show this morning (Mike and Mike on ESPN), Mike Greenburg mentioned in passing that at flag-rising ceremonies, like the Olympics, “you just get a lump in your throat.” He’s right. I do. And I think that’s wonderful. It’s always a good excuse to take that big step backward that we all need from time to time to remember that, for all its faults, there’s no place in the world we’d rather live.
Lord knows, we have plenty of divisions to deal with, and plenty of topics that pit some of us against others of us. If we tried to count them, we’d be here all day: politics, government, global warming, Wall Street, health insurance, welfare, hunting, SUVs, cell phones, texting, reality TV, talk radio, smoking, PBS, marijuana, bad driving, Happy Meals, Michael Vick, Nancy Pelosi, Brett Favre, Rush Limbaugh – add your own 10 or 20 here.
And we have plenty of things about us that seem to provide the world reasons to disapprove of our culture, like our wretched excesses and banal preoccupations (like Lindsey Lohan and the Kardashians). But once you take that big step back -isn’t it wonderful that we are so big…so open…so diverse that we can have all those differences, and pursue all those obsessions, without killing one another over them?
Being “American” isn’t the least common denominator. It’s the best one. I believe it’s that great big “melting pot” thing that keeps us, more or less, moving down a nice, centered path. Extremists can be heard, but seldom win the day. Together, we’re too smart for that. In this great big tug-of-war we’re involved in, the knot may move back and forth, but it stays pretty much over the mud puddle, and no one loses. We always self-correct, eventually. And that keeps happening because of our unique system of government, our culture, and yes, even our morals.
I’m not Pollyanna. We aren’t perfect. But Freedom includes the freedom to be weird, quirky, superficial, dense, selfish, different, and even “wrong” on any given issue- at least as others see it. But they don’t have to like it, as long as it doesn’t violate their rights. This is America.
When you see a flag on November 11, it’s not hokey to get a lump in your throat. It’s human, it’s natural, and it’s very, very American. On THIS day, you can follow Lindsey Lohan, post insipid comments after on-line news stories, and even root against my teams, if you want. Because my uncle flew fighter planes off a carrier in WW II, and my brother served in Vietnam, and millions of others have made similar sacrifices through the decades just to make sure you could.
America isn’t America by accident. This country is great because of the principles that unite us. And the people who protect us. Right here, I would like to say to all the veterans who have ever served, and to your families who have served as well, THANK YOU. For your service. And for the kind of lives we all get to lead every day.