My Idea of Patriotism


I like the way Mark Twain described patriotism. He said, “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”

Lately, the word ‘patriotism’ has been tossed around by both Democrats and Republicans as a way to paint themselves as the good guys and their opponents as the evildoers.

You know what I mean, right?

Trump claims that progressive Democrats “hate America”. He tells them that if they are so critical of our country, they should just leave. I don’t know about you, but I remember hearing similar sentiments from Republicans in the past, when the left was critical of various wars and regime building exercises. Feel free to leave if you don’t like it here with us!

We all know people who fly flags to show how patriotic they are. They wear red, white and blue shirts and sport “America First” hats.

Patriotism has been defined in the past as “My country, right or wrong.” Yeehah.

And I don’t mean to point fingers at the Republicans alone, either. We have plenty of Democrats who are trying to seize the moral high ground. Maxine Waters demanded not long ago that Republicans must “prove their patriotism” in the age of Donald Trump.

So what is patriotism?

Is it blind loyalty to a piece of cloth? Or loyalty to a chunk of soil? Is it devotion and total acceptance of one politician, or one party, or one economic philosophy?

I say no.

I say this: Patriotism is the belief that my country is a place where people can live well and prosper. It is a determination to make that claim true.

So I will no longer register as either a D or an R. I won’t automatically support the person with the D or the R after their name on the ballot.

I will be a patriot by doing everything I can to make my tiny part of this huge world safer and kinder for as many people as possible.

My patriotism, from this day on, will be shown by listening to people with whom I disagree. It will be shown by donating to my local Community Action Committee. By donating towels and shampoo to the homeless shelter and volunteering at the hospital.

I’m a patriot because I believe that humans are the only part of the country that means anything. Humans need food and homes and clothes and jobs. Humans need education and health care. They need a sense of belonging and of a shared destiny.

Humans need to be able to raise their kids without fear. They need to be able to go through every day focused on the next meal and the upcoming holiday and the weather.

They need to be protected from the dangers of war, or xenophobia, or mass killings, of extreme poverty and sickness.

I’m a patriot when I greet the new cashier at my local grocery store, admire her bright red hijab and ask her what country she’s from. I’m a patriot when she and I share recipes for bone broth and wish each other a good weekend. I’m a patriot when I turn off the never-ending partisan blather about impeachment, corruption, lies, lawbreaking and who is less of a patriot than whom. When I turn on music and sing with my grandkids. I’m a patriot when I teach them how to make the Italian foods that I learned at my own Nana’s table and when we research new recipes together from countries we’ve never seen. I’m a patriot when I meet a Mom at the local park and learn that she came to Massachusetts from West Africa and we both hate the same ice-sleet storms that plague New England in late winter.

I’m reminded of a line from one of my favorite movies, “The American President.” The girlfriend of the President is upset with him because he doesn’t stand up to his opponent, who keeps bashing the people who do support him. She says, “How can you keep quiet? How do you have patience for people who claim they love America but clearly can’t stand Americans?”

I’d like both of our ruling parties to think about this quote. If you can’t stand half of us because we disagree with you, then you don’t “love America”. You are not a patriot.

WE are America. You either love us all, govern us all, protect us all, or you are clearly no patriot. And you are not fit for public office.

Word Study


141209-cia-torture-report-1104a_09398f637fb46da2dd915ffd044a9259One of the fun things about teaching children to read and write is that we get to do what is called “word study”.  We look at the spelling, we break the word into its component parts, we think about Greek and Latin roots.  Its so fun!

I love Word Study because it helps the children to be more precise in the language that they use in writing and in speech.  Word Study lets me be very clear when I tell them that the word “like” means “to enjoy” or “to feel affection for”.  So, like, they shouldn’t, like, you know, like put it in front of, like, every other word in the sentence when they, like, tell you what happened during, like, the, like, French and Indian war.

Of course it is incredibly important for our young people to be very precise in the words that they use when they speak or write. Of course it is.

We wouldn’t want them to use misleading or euphemistic language when they grow up to become the leaders of the free world, now would we?

It has been an interesting few weeks for a teacher who engages in word study, let me tell you.  I was fascinated to read about the tragic events in New York, when a young black man was killed while walking in his own apartment building.  He was shot by an NYPD officer.  Oops, sorry, he wasn’t “shot”.  He died “due to the accidental discharge of a firearm.”   Gotcha.

It has been even more intriguing for a word study person like me to hear about the recently released torture report.  I mean, I thought that “torture” was a pretty clear idea.  Especially if you look at US law.  There’s a clear definition of torture and it pretty much means just what you’d think. It means inflicting severe physical or mental pain on someone under your control.

But as I listen to the guys who actually ordered it, condoned it, sanctioned it and believe in it, I am hearing about things like “EITs”.   They don’t say, “We tortured the guy until he told us what we wanted to hear”, they say  “He revealed valuable information after undergoing EITs”.   If you didn’t know any better, you’d think it was a cosmetic procedure.

At the very, very least, they should be saying “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques”.  I think we all know how these techniques are “enhanced”.  They use processes like “rectal rehydration“.  And waterboarding (also known as “near drowning”).  Pretty damn enhanced, huh?

And lest you think I am simply anti Republican, let’s think about the drones that the current President is using to blast apart the bad guys in the dusty old middle east. Oops, pardon me.  Let’s think about the “UAV”s (“Unmanned Aerial Vehicles”) that are dropping death onto the heads of terrorists and innocents alike.

You have to admit, it sounds much cleaner and much more moral to say that our government uses UAVs to neutralize a threat than it is to say that we used drones to kill a guy and his family.

It is much easier for us to feel good about ourselves when we tell the world that our EITs resulted in actionable intel than it is to say that we tortured a guy until he squealed and gave up his comrades.

I am not here to debate the morality of war, or the morality of torture, or the morality of dropping bombs from the sky on people who can’t strike back because the bomber is unmanned.  For me, as a teacher and a mother and a believer in the sanctity of human life, there is no debate.

What I am here to say is this:  If you are going to torture people and drop anonymous bombs on them and nearly drown them and shove water up inside them until they scream, at least have the courage to admit to what you are doing, and don’t try to hide behind the nuances of the English language. If you honestly believe that you are doing good and operating on the side of decency when you keep someone awake for 150 hours while he is chained naked to the ceiling, at least have the courage to say that you believe that sometimes it is morally right to torture.

Admit to your beliefs, admit to your actions, name them for what they are, and accept responsibility for carrying them out.

Searching for detachment


You know how you can get a song stuck on your mind, and it plays over and over and over and over, day and night, no matter how hard you try to erase it?  Well, this is kind of like that.

You know how it is when you have a sore tooth, or a canker sore, or a spot on your cheek where you bit down unexpectedly, and now it is all swollen and painful?  You know how, when that happens, you can’t stop your tongue from prodding and probing and making the pain worse?  Well.  This is just like that.

I can’t seem to let it go. I can’t force myself to stop poking that sore spot, to stop probing the painful, erupting lesion that is the gun violence issue.

See, I’m a teacher.  I’m a mother.  I made a choice almost thirty years ago to dedicate my life to taking care of children.  It’s just what I do.

How can I step back and stop thinking about the threats that face my kids every single day?

I can’t.  So I lie awake in my bed and I poke and I prod and I toss and I turn and I tremble.  I cannot make myself turn it off.

As I try to fall asleep, I find myself arguing with those who declare with confidence that “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”   I find myself shaking my head as it lies on my pillow, and I hear my cry of rage as I try to explain that “People with fucking GUNS kill people!”

I stand under the hot shower spray, trying to relax and get ready for my day. I try to clear my mind, but I can. Not. Do. It.  I can’t disconnect my heart and my brain from the problem that is giving me such pain.  Instead of enjoying the warmth, I stand there in the steamy heat and argue as hard as I can against those who claim that they have a fundamental “right” to carry any weapon they want to carry, no matter who will die because of their choice.

I am sleepless and irritable.  I am impatient and tired and weepy.  My blood pressure needs me to step back.  My crazy arrhythmic heart needs me to detach from the insanity.  I am just an aging fifth grade teacher. I need to let other people fight this fight.

But I can’t do it.

I find myself caught in the amazingly circular illogic of the “gun rights” argument.   I find myself speechless, my jaws agape, my eyes bulging in disbelief as I listen to the arguments of the NRA and its supporters.

I won’t go into all of the nonsense now; I can’t!  My brain will surely explode if I try.  Instead, I will focus on the one unbelievable argument that has kept me spinning for the past two weeks.  Its an argument that I have read on line, heard on talk radio, and seen on TV.  But most incredibly to me, it is an argument that I have heard from some of my closest relations.

It is an argument that has been made to me by people who are former military and who right now work for, wait for it…..

The US Government.

What makes this so shocking?  Well, when I ask the question (over and over and over again) “Why on earth would anyone need a military grade assault weapon whose only purpose is to kill as many people as possible in as little time as possible?”  the answer that I keep getting is that the weapons are necessary “In case the government becomes a tyrannical dictatorship who intends to take away all of our rights!  We must rebel! We must fight back!”

Uh.  You mean you intend to use your weapon to murder government agents? Like, your colleagues in the government? Your gonna kill them?

You mean that you plan to rise up and use violence to oppose laws with which you disagree?

Scuse me?  How is this not domestic terrorism?   How is this not criminal?

How is it that every single government official isn’t standing right up in their tax-payer -supported seats and shouting out, “Hey! If you threaten to kill government officials, you are EXACTLY the kind of people who we all agree should never have weapons!”

How the hell is this kind of talk even allowed?

I don’t get it.

So I stay awake all night trying to wrench it all into a shape that makes some kind of sense.

A few years ago my children, all young adults, joined in the Occupy Wall Street movement.  They went to New York, they held up some poorly painted cardboard signs, and they walked across the Brooklyn Bridge.  Traffic was slowed down, and the marchers all got arrested. As in, “sent to jail for walking across the bridge.” Some of the people who observed this activity accused my non-violent, chanting, singing children of being “unpatriotic”.  They said, “If you don’t like this country, why don’t you leave?!”

Now we have thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of citizens who state publicly that they fully intend to use their weapons to mow down any federal agent who tries to enforce any law that they deem to be “tyranny”.

I notice that they are not being arrested. They are not being called “unpatriotic”, although I can’t imagine anything less patriotic than what they are screaming.  They are not being put on watch lists, or “you shouldn’t have a gun because you’re a threat” lists.  They aren’t being told to “leave” even though they clearly fear and hate the country in which they live.

So I don’t get it.

I can’t stop tossing and turning and poking my tongue into the wound that was left after Tucson and Aurora and Sandy Hook.  I try, but I can’t let it go.

See, I am not particularly afraid of my government.

But I am scared to death of the people who want to use 800 rounds from their Bushmasters to express their political opinions.

Where is the public outcry?