Tag Archives: patriotism

Love It or Leave It? What Respect Do We Owe to Our Flag & Anthem?

DSC_0641“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?” —Muhammad Ali 

This week has found me totally captivated by the story of Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, and his decision to remain seated during the playing of the national anthem before a preseason football game. When asked after the game about this highly unusual action, Kaepernick explained himself: 

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder. …This is not something I am going to run by anybody. I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. …If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.” 

BOOM! Fire started.

The backlash was instantaneous and venomous. Social media was flooded with videos of people burning their Kaepernick jerseys—this age’s trendy way to protest a player’s actions—images that were quickly picked up by the mainstream media. Memes slamming him were everywhere on Facebook and Twitter. Everyone seems to be weighing in. I have heard commentators in and out of the sports world, as well as other professional athletes, describe his actions as “ungrateful,” “unpatriotic,” “selfish,” and “pathetic.” There has not been a lot of support. That much is clear.

I have actually been pleasantly surprised, though, by the number of sports people who have at least acknowledged that the cause he is trying to stand up for—or, rather, sit down for—is an important one. But most of these same folks still think the anthem is the wrong way to address it.

Much of the pushback seems to be military-related, as in, “You disrespecting the flag/anthem is a slap in the face to all of the people who have ever fought for the freedoms you are exercising with this action.” Another argument seems to go more like, “How dare you disrespect the flag of a country that allows you to earn millions for throwing a football? This country has given you everything!” There are certainly others, but these themes are pretty constant.

Nobody seems to be questioning if he has the right to do it but just whether he is right to do it. The most common answer: No matter what your issue is or how big it is, you just don’t disrespect the flag or ignore the anthem.

But, really, why not? Is the answer that black-and-white? Should it really be that simple? I don’t know.

I suppose I grew up thinking of the anthem—and the American flag—as “sacred,” something that you just didn’t mess with. No matter what. Sort of like The Bible, I suppose: you could Pinkie Promise or swear on your life and maybe get by unscathed if you broke it, but you didn’t dare put your hand on The Bible and swear your oath unless you were absolutely certain. It was flirting with the Devil. I remember being in complete shock when I first saw someone burning the American flag on the news. I couldn’t believe it. I just didn’t know that was even an option. I suppose that for most people, something like that happened when they heard about Colin Kaepernick’s protest, like “What? No. You don’t get to sit for the anthem!” 

For some reason, though, I didn’t have that reaction. Don’t get me wrong, I was startled by it, because I knew it was taboo. But I wasn’t outraged. I wasn’t even really dismayed. More than anything, I was fascinated.

I think I was fascinated as much by my own reaction as I was by his motivations and how it would be received. I was aware that I was okay with what he did, but I felt really odd about being okay with it? I wondered if I should be as outraged as almost everyone else seemed to be. But I just wasn’t. I think it was because the more I considered the issue, and particularly his motivation for sitting out the anthem, the more I realized what a complex web of issues was involved. It was a lot more grey than simply black or white.

I know that much of the sentiment against Kaepernick and his statement can be summed up something like this: “He’s a disrespectful coward, and he has no gratitude to the country that has made him rich and famous. Pathetic!” 

I understand that sentiment. I really do. I think it’s the easy reaction, and if things were only black or white, I would probably end up with that reaction, too. But, as I try to empathize with him and really take the words he says seriously, I find myself feeling another way.

My guess is that Colin Kaepernick grew up a lot like I did, and probably like you did. He probably cheered “U.S.A.!! U.S.A!!” at the television during the Olympics like I did. He probably looked at the flag and the anthem as sacred, too, and was probably shocked when he first witnessed a flag burning. And because I am inclined to see him as more like me—just like most everyone in the world—than different, I have to believe it took some serious soul-searching, lots of inner turmoil, and finally some real bravery to take this bold action. That much I can definitely respect. I also figured out something important: that I can separate the fact that I respect him for his convictions from the entirely different issue of whether I think the final display of his convictions—sitting for the anthem—was a wise or foolish choice.

I also look at the flip-side of the argument that he has no grounds to sit out the anthem because he has made millions of dollars by living in this great country. The flip-side is that he actually has a lot to lose by making this statement. Endorsement dollars, potential job opportunities, fans, relationships. He didn’t ask any teammates to join his protest because he immediately felt the public backlash and didn’t want to subject them to it, too. But he was willing to kneel for the anthem for this week’s game, too. With all that he had to lose, he did it anyway to keep getting his message out there. I can appreciate that kind of courage.

Finally, he didn’t seem to be pulling this as some immediate reaction to an incident that happened to him. As far as we know, he was not recently a victim of police violence or profiling. So, it wasn’t obviously a personal thing. He has previously been outspoken on social media about civil rights issues. This is all just to say that I give some credence to the idea that he was actually using his large public voice to speak for the voiceless. He was taking a stand for others who had less power to stand for themselves. That, all by itself, is admirable to me.

In the end, I still can’t say for sure whether Colin Kaepernick sitting out the anthem is “right” or not. I definitely think the cause he is speaking up for is a worthy one, but I don’t know if sitting out the anthem succeeded in bringing enough of the right kind of attention to the cause or not. The issue of him sitting clearly blew up in the media, but did the issue of racism and police violence against people of color blow up as well? Are people talking seriously about that now, too? I hope they are, but I am not sure. I think the jury is still out and waiting for time to tell us if the protest will be successful.

So, would I do it? Would I sit or kneel for the anthem? I never have before. I like to think that I am quite aware of and sensitive to the way our country and our culture has systematically failed large groups of people, including the ones Kaepernick is standing up for. America has a history of deep, dark injustice that has not been well addressed and thus continues to be a cancer on us all. Those things are worth a protest. But America—and by extension, the flag that stands for it—is also about ideals. There are lofty philosophies—freedom, equality, justice, and more—that our nation strives to be a model of. The flag symbolizes those ideals and also the people who fought and died to give the rest of us the chance to keep striving for them. In my mind, of course I know we haven’t lived up to those ideals. Societally, we fail regularly and miserably at that. I get that, and I can see why Colin Kaepernick wants to remind us that we need to do better. But I also understand how, at least for me, it is important to stand for a couple of minutes sometimes and listen to a song that reminds me of the ideals that we all so desperately need to keep striving for.

How about you?   How do you feel about the idea of someone sitting out the national anthem in protest of America’s shortcomings? Open up your journal and see if you can flesh out the complexities of this very polarizing issue. First, what is your initial, gut reaction to hearing about this protest against the flag or the anthem? Is it a strong feeling, or just mild? On a scale of one to ten, how patriotic would you say you are? Do you think that patriotism dictates the severity of your reaction to this issue? Is Kaepernick’s cause—racial injustice and police violence against people of color—important enough to tread into such a volatile (though peaceful) form of protest? Has it so far succeeded in getting you and those around you to think about or discuss these issues? In your sphere, has the racial injustice discussion been overshadowed by the anthem/flag discussion? Do you agree with me that it required courage and conviction to protest in this way? Can you respect and admire those qualities in him even if you disagree with his actions? Would you sit out the anthem for this cause? Is there anything our country could do—e.g. enter into an unjust war—that could make you sit out the anthem or desecrate a flag? Should we honor our anthem and flag because of the ideals that we would like the country to stand for—and the people who fought for those ideals–or because of how the country actually is? Should the flag simply be out of bounds when it comes to protests, i.e. should Americans salute it no matter what is happening here or what types of conflicts the country is participating in? Leave me a reply and let me know: What do we owe to our flag and our anthem? 

Be your best today,

William

P.S. If this helped you to consider this difficult topic in a new light, please pass it on. Let’s spread the empathy around! Bless you.

Olympic Fever: What makes The Games so addictive?

IMG_2888“We are all a part of God’s great big family. And the truth, you know, love is all we need. We are the world….” —Michael Jackson/Lionel Richie, “We Are The World”

Hello friend,

Last Friday evening, I had to pull the Dad Card on my six-year-old son, forcing him to watch the Opening Ceremonies of The Olympics in favor of the usual Disney Junior or Mario Kart. I put on my serious voice and explained to him how special The Games are and how much I loved watching them with my family when I was a kid. He wasn’t totally buying it, but he reluctantly agreed to give it a shot.

By noon the next day, that same kid was screaming at the television, “GO PO-LAND! GO PO-LAND!” as the Bicycle Road Race came to its dramatic conclusion (the Polish guy ended up with the bronze). And by six o’clock Sunday morning, as I was getting ready to sneak out to the gym so I could be back before the house woke up, he—who usually sleeps the latest of all of us—came bounding down the stairs and announced, “I want to watch The Olympics!”

What can I say? The kid has inherited the gene! He has a certified case of Olympic Fever!

It’s not just he and I, though. My wife has it. My daughter, too. It is rampant throughout the house. And, from what I hear, the rest of my extended family and friends have contracted it as well. It seems quite clear that Olympic Fever has hit epidemic proportions.

I watched a video on the Internet this week from the President and First Lady to the American Olympians. In it, they were talking about how Olympic-crazy their families were when they were growing up, how everything in the neighborhood would stop for those two weeks while everyone hunkered down in front of their televisions to be a part of the magic that is The Games.

But why? What is the magic? What is it about The Olympic Games that transforms the vast majority of us—sports fans and non-sports fans alike—into wild patriots who stay up way past our bedtimes every single night until they are finished? (Seriously, you know how, nine months after huge blizzards, lots of babies are born? Well, there has to be a two-week period of time nine months after each Olympics when absolutely zero babies are born!) What is the drug that is so addictive? What is the charm?

On first blush, the easy answer seems to be patriotism. After all, it is so much fun to chant “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!” as the last seconds of a close win tick down. And who doesn’t take special pride in our amazing swimming and women’s gymnastics teams and those piles of gold medals they racked up? It just seems more fun when the national anthem being played is our own.

Another thing that draws us all in are the heart-touching personal stories of the athletes. These are people who have sacrificed so much for this one moment in time, some of them against all odds. The stories of their families—who have often given up more than the athlete herself—are spellbinding. Sometimes, I think I would rather watch the profile stories than the actual competitions.

But the competitions, too, expose part of the answer to our addiction to The Olympics, too. Quite simply, we appreciate excellence and achievement at the highest levels. Watching a Simone Biles Floor Exercise routine is about as jaw-dropping as a human physical feat gets. But really, awesomeness is everywhere you turn in Rio these days.

The competition itself, too, is a big appeal, especially for folks like me who like to watch a sporting battle any time of the year. A soccer game decided by penalty kicks, or the third game in a beach volleyball match, these are completely engrossing. With the big personalities in some of the sports, too, the individual showdowns are must-see events: Michael Phelps vs. Ryan Lochte, stone-faced Michael Phelps vs. shadow-boxing Chad LeClos, Michael Phelps’ s iron will vs. Michael Phelps’s aging body. It is edge-of-your-seat stuff. Very compelling, very addicting.

All of these elements—patriotism, dramatic personal stories, physical excellence, and nail-biting competition—combine to make The Olympics required viewing in most homes across the land. You can decide for yourself which of them compels you the most.

However, after living in the middle of this Olympic vortex all week—and through every Olympiad for the last forty-plus years–and wondering about this magical, drug-like addiction that it engenders, I have come to believe that the true magic of The Games might not be any of those things at all. I think the root of Olympic Fever lies beneath all of that. It is about a feeling.

Think about that feeling you get in your heart during the Opening Ceremonies, specifically during the Parade of Nations. All of these human souls coming together under one roof with smiles on their faces. The audience erupts in generous applause for all of the athletes, all of the countries. The athletes come in a spirit of fairness and to give their very best effort to the cause. They stand together in the middle of the stadium, all dancing to the same music and being cheered, both in the stadium and in front of televisions all over the world simultaneously. There is a magnificent unity and generosity about the entire experience. Good will flows like a river. The world feels together and at peace for a beautiful, isolated moment. It is downright utopian.

This beautiful spirit continues through the Closing Ceremonies, which is typically an even bigger global party than the Opening Ceremonies. The athletes flow freely across country lines and revel with their competitors in a spirit of fellowship and a celebration of the wonder which they all just created together on fields and courts and hearts.

The entire Olympic experience is oozing with ideals that we all quietly long for. It is a kind of goodness. Unity. Positivity. Winning with excellence rather than by belittling the opponents. Fair play. Sportsmanship. Good will toward all humankind.

I think we cling to these ideals so desperately during these two weeks because, consciously or not, they are what we are always supposed to exemplify. It is how we are meant to live as humans. Our hearts and souls know it, even when our heads do not. The feeling in our hearts during those ceremonies and over the course of The Games is our still, small voice telling us, “This is how Life is supposed to be.”

You know that feeling you have inside when you are doing something you absolutely love to do? You are buzzing. Your heart is dancing. Your mind is calm and focused. You feel energetic, alive. Happy. Everything just feels right. That is how you know you are doing what you are supposed to be doing! I think that, collectively, we feel a lot like that during The Olympics. Maybe we should take notice of that. Maybe our hearts are telling us something very, very important.

Think about what a welcome escape the Olympics are from the negative news of the day in our country. Instead of violence in the streets, strained race relations, and acrimonious politics, we get uplifting stories of courage, teamwork, perseverance, love, and triumph. It is a blessed coincidence that the Summer Olympics happen to fall on an election year every single time. Seriously, how great is it hear the names Michael Phelps and Simone Biles instead of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton for a change? Phelps, Biles, and all of their teammates represent something in our hearts and minds that can’t be touched by the politicians. No wonder we don’t want to watch anything else for two weeks!

It is up to us to bring the spirit of The Games back into “real life” rather than let that old negativity and animosity creep back in and become the norm a few weeks from now. Maybe we should make that the new Olympic Oath? That is one vow I am ready to take!

How about you? Are you willing to keep the best of the Olympic spirit in your heart and in your actions even when The Games are complete? Open up your journal and explore what The Olympics mean to you and why. Do you have Olympic Fever? What are your favorite events to watch? How much does patriotism play a part for you in your investment in The Games? Do you only cheer for your country’s athletes? Do you get wrapped up in the athlete profile stories? Who’s story is particularly compelling for you? How much of why you watch is simply to see great performances from the best of the best? How much of it is the competition itself and the rivalries? What do you think is the factor that takes The Olympics from being something that is fun to casually follow, to something that so many people are completely addicted to? Is there something to my idea that there is a spirit that permeates The Games that is completely unique and compelling? Is there something in some other aspect of our society that approximates the global good will generated by The Olympics? Does my thought that Olympic Fever is our soul calling us to keep that sense of unity and peace in our lives resonate with you, or does it seem like a load of New Age nonsense? Are you better for your Olympic experience? What is the best lesson from The Olympics, the part of it that you can take with you into the world and the years before the next Olympiad comes around? Will you do that? Leave me a reply and let me know: How will you carry your Olympic flame?

Find reasons to be bigger,

William

P.S. If you have Olympic Fever, or if you know someone who might benefit from reading this, please pass it on. Our best qualities ought to be celebrated.

When I Am Proud of America

DSC_0061 2“Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.” –Mark Twain

Hello friend,

Every time I popped onto Facebook last weekend, I was more and more encouraged and uplifted. I had heard the news on Friday of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage in all fifty states. It took the whole course of that day for the reality of that decision to sink in. It felt like just last year when I was amazed and heartened by my own state, Minnesota, voting for marriage equality, and I never dreamed that something like Friday’s decision would happen any time soon. I figured it would take a couple more generations of bigoted folks to die off before there was a chance at getting nationwide marriage equality laws in place. After all, through all of the centuries of this country’s existence—and even through the Civil Rights Era and beyond—the gay community had seemingly made very few strides in terms of gaining mainstream acceptance and justice. But then Friday came, and BAM!!!! Just like that, this movement that felt like it had only just begun creeping its way forward suddenly took a quantum leap toward equality. As the ramifications of the Supreme Court decision gradually sunk in that day, I became increasingly grateful and emotional about it. It just felt so good that so many people who had been so long denied this institution that I, and so many others like me, take for granted in our heterosexual privilege, would finally be granted access to the club (or rather, that the “club” no longer existed). I was suddenly a big fan of the Supreme Court. And then the Facebook profile pictures started changing to include the rainbow overlay in support of the gay community. When I saw the first one, I was like, “Oh, that’s a cool image! I never knew YOU were an ally and a supporter of marriage equality. I like you better now!” And then they just kept on coming, one rainbow flag after another, from all corners of my Facebook community. Each one lifted my spirits a little more. Pretty soon, I was like, “Go, America!!!” It was one of those rare and awesome moments when I have been both proud of my country (for the decision) and proud of my countrymen and women (for the support of equality). We got it right!

I have always felt very proud to be an American. Growing up in the Cold War Era, patriotism and hatred of the “Evil (Soviet) Empire” went hand-in-hand. I grew up believing that we were definitely on the right side of that battle. My family was also crazy about the Olympic Games, so when the undermanned USA hockey team beat the mighty Soviets and won the gold medal at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, it was a defining moment in my childhood and probably the first clear memory I have of being proud of America. I guess that at that age, I likened the hockey team’s victory to a giant knockdown punch of Good over Evil. America, my country, was something to brag about in that moment.

I also believed the history books I learned from in elementary school. I blindly accepted the idea that we were the undisputed King of the World in all matters of commerce, ideas, and diplomacy. So I was a regular patriot, proud to live in the best country in the world. That wasn’t one event, though, but just a general pride. It wasn’t until years later that I learned the cold truth about the way we built this reputation and ascended to such heights (by taking the lands of indigenous people, killing those people, and building our industry on the backs of enslaved peoples, with little regard for the way we treated other countries and lands along the way). My childhood pride was of America the Concept.

So, what were the events that made me feel proud of America the Country? My country. Not just the concept of America—we all love the idea of Freedom and Opportunity and the like—or what an American person or persons (like a hockey team or a scientist) did, but what the country did. Or, more specifically, what the American government did.

When I look back to my childhood, beyond the Olympic Games of every four years, I remember being proud of my country for the space program and, particularly, the space shuttle missions. Remember how big of a deal those were when the shuttle was new? Everyone stopped what they were doing to watch the launch on television. I was in awe of what they were doing, and the whole aura about it was cloaked in patriotism. America was, in my childish point-of-view, the only country in the world who did amazing things like this for the betterment of all humankind. We were the shepherd, and I loved being a part of that.

After childhood, I hate to admit that the moments of being proud of my government’s actions kind of dried up. With more of the veil lifted to my adult eyes regarding the reasons we really do what we do in the world—usually MONEY leading the way—it became more difficult to cheer for the good old USA in areas of diplomacy. No matter how hard the politicians tried to sell the many wars and “conflicts” we entered, I was disappointed in us for entering them. And I watched how we—as a people and in the three branches of government–were treating each other at home in terms of advancing our pillars of Liberty and Equality, and I was like the kid who grows up to see his hero wasn’t so heroic after all. I still loved and rooted for America the Concept, but the “We The People” America was seriously letting me down. As a sensitive idealist and optimist, I must admit that my feelings were being hurt the country that I loved so much.

I am happy to report, though, that the old Red, White, and Blue has begun to turn things around in my eyes in recent years. A story of redemption has begun to emerge out of all of the chapters of disappointment. It started with Presidential politics in recent elections. Yes, amidst that arena that is still basically a Gong Show to me and everyone else, my spirit has been lifted by the American people’s relative openness to candidates beyond just old, White guys. Whether or not I am a fan of theirs, I have been delighted to see the popularity of Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton and their legitimate candidacies for our highest offices. The worm is turning, and I love that my six-year-old daughter has examples to look to in the biggest arenas of politics. I now believe that there will be legitimate female candidates on the ballot when it comes time for her to vote. Go, America!

The bigger source of pride for me in that arena, though, has been our—We the People’s—election of a Black man to the highest office in the land. Given where we have been in this country—and where we still are in a lot of ways—it was absolutely astonishing to me that we made that bold move as a country in 2008. Sure, I know that only half the country votes for the winner in these elections and that the other half often fiercely opposes, but the fact that we had a Black man right there in the arena (and that he actually won a majority of votes) speaks volumes about a collective shift that has begun to occur in the mind of America. Whether you agreed with his politics or not, I felt like America deserved a giant pat on the back on that election night in the name of racial progress. It was a big, big deal.

Then came last week and two Supreme Court decisions that really brought back some of that national pride from my youth. The first one confirmed the legality of the Affordable Care Act, which is our imperfect beginning to the journey toward assuring that all of our residents have access to health care. I know this issue is a polarizing one in our country—and, interestingly, also not on the radar at all for many people—but for me, it is an important one when it comes to national pride. With the rest of the world, at least conceptually, treating health care as the basic right that I think it should be, I have always been quite embarrassed that in America, health care was only for those who could pay for it. As someone who could not always do so, I remember the helplessness and desperation I felt when I was uninsured and mangled my thumb and wrecked my back. Though I know we are only at the beginning of this process, I am heartened by these first steps toward this basic decency. We can do it!

The other Supreme Court case, of course, was the same-sex marriage decision. In all ways, that just made me feel very good. Let LOVE rule, America!!! It struck me as a happy coincidence that it was the lead-in to Pride Weekend, an annual celebration of the LGBTQ community. My wife was marching in the Pride Parade through downtown, and my heart felt so full (and relieved) for the entire community and its allies. My country had finally done right by them. I was marching in my own Pride Parade. Pride in America. We the People.

How about you? What makes you feel proud of your country? Open up your journal and examine your relationship with your government and your people. Are you typically more proud of them or more disappointed? Think back to your childhood. When did you feel that national pride? Compare that to your adulthood. Did you become jaded like me and aware of our collective shortcomings? What moments or movements have made you feel proud to be one of us? Inevitably, discussions such as this one end up being politically driven. As the hyper-liberal that I am, I can think the legalization of same-sex marriage is one of our most proud moments, and the ultra-conservative next to me can write her article about this being one of our most shameful moments. Where do you fall on this topic? What about the others I mentioned: issues around gender, race, and economics/health care? What other issues move your needle in terms of national pride or disappointment? Are they mostly political issues, or are there others, like my Olympic fever or space shuttle awe? Leave me a reply and let me know: When are you proud of America?

Celebrate LIFE,

William

Remembering America

DSC_0181“Nostalgia is also a dangerous form of comparison. Think about how often we compare our lives to a memory that nostalgia has so completely edited that it never really existed.” —Brene Brown

Hello friend,

I just returned from my 4th of July holiday weekend at the lake with my whole family: wife, kids, parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews. It was awesome! I am a huge lover of family gatherings, and when you add the lake and Summer to the deal, I am ecstatic. So, needless to say, I was feeling very happy and grateful all weekend. I was reminded of so many of the reasons I am glad to be me. Being surrounded by loved ones has a way of doing that.

But, even as I was enjoying each moment of the weekend, I couldn’t help but become a bit nostalgic for bygone days. Some of that nostalgia was the natural result of being on the lake where I spent the blissful, carefree Summers of my childhood. However, there was one event in particular that really sent me reeling back in time—back even before my time—and made me long for those bygone days of America in simpler times. What event could hold such an unexpected power over my heart and my memory? A boat parade, of course!

Like many lakes around the country, every year on the 4th of July, my family’s lake has a boat parade. Usually there is a theme—e.g. cartoons—and folks decorate their boats and passengers accordingly. This year, though, in an effort to get more boats involved, they invited anyone to join, and with any décor. So, at the very last moment, we decided to be a part of the parade. We grabbed a bunch of American flags and jumped on the pontoon. As we headed across the wavy waters on a dark, windy day—getting splashed in the face with each bump—I thought we would end up miserable and regretting our decision to participate. How wrong I turned out to be.

As we pulled our boat into the line that had already passed a quarter of the lake’s shoreline, I instantly took note of all the people who had come out to their decks and docks to watch and wave at us. It was people of all ages, often three generations at a single cabin. My nieces instantly got into it, shouting “U.S.A. Rocks!!!” at each gathered group as we slowly passed. My daughter soon jumped into the act, and my son relished the opportunity to blow the horn at everyone. Even as we fought the wind and waves, there was quite a celebratory spirit alive on the boat. The more people that waved and shouted at us from shore, the more fun it became. I was tickled at the joy that the children got in waving the American flag and greeting the onlookers with shouts and waves. I found myself openly joining them. It was a surprising treat.

That childish joy, however, was not the greatest gem that I discovered on that 4th of July boat parade. No, the real prize that was uncovered in that pontoon and on those docks was a sense of community and patriotism that I thought was long lost, a throwback to yesteryear. The longer the parade went—we were on a very big lake—the more amazed I became at the number of people who had come out to wave and to support both us and their country. It was almost every cabin! But it was not just the numbers that got me; it was the age range. It was little kids getting a great kick out of a parade, and it was their parents happy to share the experience with them. It was senior citizens. It was even teenagers!

It seemed clear to me that these folks had been coming out of these cabins to watch this parade for years and years, generation after generation, to pay a simple but heartfelt tribute to the good old U.S.A. and to the neighbors that had made the effort to make this holiday special. It felt like a real throwback to the time after the World Wars, when people actually were sincerely grateful that America existed and that they got to live here. There was a purity and innocence about it that moved me deeply.

The further we went along the parade route, the more beautiful the experience felt and the more grateful I became, both that we had chosen to participate and that I live in America. I really liked that there were these last vestiges of simpler times here in our increasingly impersonal, jaded, modern world. I so often find myself lamenting the fact that, even in my relatively safe neighborhood in suburbia, I don’t feel comfortable letting the kids out to play alone in the driveway or yard, and that it seems awkward to let them run over to see if the neighbor kids are home before I text the parents to see if it’s okay. I hate that I probably wouldn’t answer my doorbell if it rang right now. It seems that, in spite of all of our amazing technological advances in recent years, our sense of community has been lost. Likewise, it feels like it is open season on our country’s leaders and our nation’s actions around the world.

And yet, there I was in a boat parade on the 4th of July, and an entire community of people stepped out of their doors to wave to their neighbors and cheer on this magnificent place called America. I must say, it made my heart feel really, really good. It restored something inside of me that needed restoring. I remembered not only how great my country was, but also how great it still is.

How about you? How do you think America has changed in your lifetime? Get out your journal and take a trip back in time. How safe did you feel as a child? Did you know and trust your neighbors? How patriotic were you? How much respect did you have for the President and your government’s decisions regarding world affairs? Compare your answers to those questions with how you feel today in your neighborhood and in your country. How much has it changed? In what aspects of your life do you feel a genuine sense of community? How nostalgic are you? Do you look at the past through rose-colored glasses, or do you think you remember things quite accurately and impartially? Was our country better in your youth or now? How about your community? What other events—like the boat parade—feel as though they bridge the gap between today and yesteryear? Leave me a reply and let me know: How do you like to remember America?

Take the first step up your mountain today,

William