It may surprise you to learn that I am a patriot.

I had a beloved teacher at grad school, who was an inspiring dear at 90+ years old. Having seen most of the major wars of the 20th century and having lived to tell the tale, he was full of wit and wisdom. Somehow one day it came up in conversation that I was patriotic in nature, and he asked me to stay after class so we could talk about it.

As the other students left, he asked me to explain what I meant about being a patriot….and before I was even done, he began to scold me. How could I be so naive? Didn’t I know what our country had done to the rest of the world? Didn’t I realize how corrupt and horrible our government was (is)? Didn’t I realize the folly of war, how violence only begets violence, how the men in charge throw away the lives of young Americans like they are expendable trash? Didn’t I realize, essentially, the illusion of America, of the spell we are cast under, how we are living a lie?

I tried to get a word in edgewise, to little effect. Although I was offended by his preconceived judgement of me, I did attempt to let him know that Yes, as a matter of fact, I Do Know all those “truths” he was cramming down my throat about the appalling and useless nature of war, and of the corruption of our government. , But my voice was falling on deaf ears (not totally metaphorically either, given his age). I left class that day, angry and hurt. And this was a class whose focus was on interpersonal relationships and authentic communication!

What I tried to tell him was this: That our country is not synonymous with war. That our government (although supposedly by the people/for the people) does not represent the multifaceted hearts that I have met all across our nation. Loving this country, this land, does not exclude me from loving other parts of the world, or from feeling deep connection and compassion with the people there. I can feel sick to my stomach when I learn that Obama has signed the patriot act into law, and I can still feel a deep and abiding love for this part of our earth that I know so well. My patriotism is not about “Rah rah rah, beat ’em down, kill ’em all, God Bless America”. My patriotism is about the land, first and foremost. Secondly, it is about the beauty of the people that live in it…their dreams, their idealism, their creative solutions, their misguided actions, their pain…all of it. I don’t care if there is a deep political divide between us. We’re all in this together.

My dad was a sailor in the Navy in WWII. This was taken at the lake in Maine, I believe just before he left.

I tear up on days like Memorial Day, or Veterans Day. It comes from a deep tender ache. On the surface, I am indignant that The Cause for which so many people give their lives in the armed services is not quite what they think it is. I feel outrage that veterans come home with severe PTSD, who still die from war, but only by their own hands, and after it is long over. Yet, these thoughts are not where the tenderness comes from.

It comes from knowing that folks who gave their lives in war, did so because of the conviction of their beliefs. Because they loved. It’s the beauty that unfolds me.

You don’t have to be pro-war or pro-government-as-usual to be a patriot. You can protest because it makes your heart bleed to know what our country could be and to see it fall short. Don’t take it from me, take it from one of the greatest patriots of all time. Woody Guthrie. (Pay attention to the last three stanzas, which are usually cut out of the version we have all heard. Oh, and sing along.)

This Land Is Your Land
Words and Music by Woody Guthrie

This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and Me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me.

I’ve roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

And now for the real reason you come to this blog:

Scenes from our weekend…

Our primary Memorial Day celebration was to be a tourist in our own town and take Fern to the MLK memorial.

We were excited to take Fern on the antique carousel at Yerba Buena Gardens. Note there is no child in the picture. Initially excited, it quickly turned to overstimulation, and she screamed as the horsies went round and round and up and down. Needless to say, we didn't stay for our second turn.

How was your four day weekend?


4 thoughts on “Memorable

  1. i have never read the lyrics to that song before. so so so so piercing and perfect and how funny that most of the world sings this song unknowing of his full meaning. i LOVE it!

  2. Once again, Mary, you have spoken to my heart of hearts. In many ways American Patriotism seems to culminate in empty phrasing and generalizations because it has through out its short history been an imaginary nation, one based more on the idea of “America” that anyone can sign on in their own mind, rather than a nation connected by customs, landscape, or ideas. No matter who you are, in theory you can be proud to be an American, yet the actual country is one huge dichotomy and contradiction.

    Though not an American yet, and often someone who blasts the very ideals so many traditional God, Guns and Country patriots hold dear, I feel very proud of this nation myself. I’m proud of my husband’s grandpa enlisted in the airforce during WW 2 because the army had him teaching skiing to the troops and he felt guilty because those guys were going off to do the actual fighting and who survived something like 27 bomber flights over Germany, and went onto be a bush pilot in Alaska after the war, just as much as I’m proud of the conscientious objectors who went to prison in opposition of the same war, or ran off to Canada to stay out Vietnam and I’m equally proud of the protesters to this on-going war, because all these folks represent the idealism and guts that are the best of this country.

    And we do proudly sing ALL the verses to “This Land Is Your Land”. I had to point this post to my husband because we were trying to sing the whole thing just last night around a fire and couldn’t quite get it together. Thank you for being a patriot and an all-around awesome, thoughtful lady.

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