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.

Mark Twain Kids

I’m a teacher.  I spend all day with kids.  I think like a kid.  I eat like a kid. I know how to play “Zip, Zap, Zop”.

I laugh at jokes about poop.

I thoroughly, totally, unequivocally enjoy being surrounded by kids.

Among other people my age, this makes me just a little…..weird.  When I am out to dinner with other 50 somethings, and I an not familiar with the TV show that they are discussing, I just might resort to making a fart joke.  It isn’t pretty, but it’s who I am.

Now, I know that it is May, and I am supposed to be counting the days until summer vacation, but instead I am immersing myself in the pleasure of being with a whole crowd of kids. It is May, and I am getting a little bit sadder every day.

I love my whole class, as a unit, more than I can express.  Every year I think to myself, “This is the BEST class I have ever had!” (But this year it’s true!)   Every May I am intensely aware of the subtle jokes and wordless messages that we share all day. Every May I feel a tug when I see how easily we laugh at each other’s jokes, understand each other’s fears and share each other’s crazy ideas.  Today, like every day in spring, I look out at the faces of “my” kids, and I feel my heart plummet at the thought of having to let them go.  I look at those familiar, beloved smiles and eyes and cheeks and sneakers, and I want to freeze the moment. I want to hold them close, although they would cringe to hear me say that.  I want to keep them near me, to watch them grow, to share in every step toward the future.

I love them all; I do!  But I also have to admit that some kids are extra special.  For me, it isn’t the kids who are always perfect who touch me the most. It isn’t the angelic, sweet tempered, fully cooperative kids who hold my heart. It isn’t the ones who master the skills without effort who really get to me.  It isn’t those kids I dream about.

I don’t know why, but it is the mischievous, grinning, sparkly-eyed tricksters who stay in my mind for years after they leave my care.

Some kids challenge me all day long.  Some of them just will NOT accept that what I say is true, or right or the best idea. They ask questions.  They demand answers. They refuse to go along and just follow orders.

These kids tilt their heads, baseball caps leaning rakishly over one twinkling eye.  They grin their gap toothed grins, give a little shrug and ask, “Yeah, but what if…….?”

These are the kids who make wild guesses.  They are the ones who use the art supplies to create elaborate interplanetary vehicles.  They hide behind the door when I am out of the room, make puns out of the history lessons, send paper airplane notes to their BFF on the other side of the cafeteria.

They are annoying, vexing, exhausting and unbelievably charming.  They are the “Mark Twain Kids”, the Huck Finns and Tom Sawyers of the fifth grade.  They don’t always get the top score on the rubric, but they invariably “think outside the box”, wherever the box may be. Sometimes they blow up the box……

It is May, and the sight of those Mark Twain kids every day makes me come to attention, pull out my best teacher strategies, and get to work.  And it is the idea of never seeing my Huck Finns again that brings me to tears when I am safe again at home after a long day of keeping them all in line.

These are the kids who make it so important for me to have a few weeks off to recuperate.  It is the promise of kids like this coming in my door in the fall that keeps me excited and helps me to get through the long, calm weeks of summer.