Photo: Seems like as good of a time as ever to break this picture I took at the Capitol. Seeing as we’re all talkin’ about patriotism and protest and all…
When I got the news about the NFL’s new policy on the anthem protests, my first thought was, “oh, that’s really perfect. I now have an excuse to make a perfectly clean break from the NFL. I relished having the perfect excuse to no longer invite football into my home in any capacity. I started thinking about how to get the boys to like baseball, perhaps play lacrosse (Major has been asking), and maybe start watching soccer or something (maybe).
But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I know that this isn’t quite the right path. Some of the changes we’ve experienced in this society in the last two years have been obvious and ridiculous. Others have been subtle, more nefarious. We’re all changing our behavior accordingly. This is natural. We’re all just trying to survive here. I’ve written before about the necessary act of self-care, and about being selective about the fires you want to tend to during this time of burning and mayhem. No matter what, though, the biggest rule I’ve been reminding myself to follow is: don’t flinch. Do not look away. Do not recoil. It’s too easy to face in another direction, looking for something more pleasant to contemplate. We have to stand and bear witness. We have to keep telling the stories of now while remembering the new transgressions so we can tell our stories tomorrow. This is our duty to ourselves, our children, and the very long memory of history. We must perform this act so our children know what to do when faced with these challenges in the future.
I think what has so many people roiled this week about the NFL’s new policy isn’t just about the asinine nature of the policy itself, but the recognition of a major organization’s capitulation to the petulant protests of a man who clearly doesn’t understand what a “patriot” is or what patriotism looks like in action. He, a caricature himself, cannot discern between the commercialized platitudes and imagery sold as “patriotism” and the true concept of the idea, the nuance and dept of it, the power behind it when it’s done right and well… Americans worth their salt know that patriotism, true and pure, isn’t practiced in the brash waving of a flag or the spittle-laden barking of a xenophobic rant, but in the near silent, often lonely, labor of service, often in lifetime dedication, always with heart set on “safer, better, stronger” for generations who come after. Show me not the camo shirt constructed in a sweatshop in China you purchased at a store for $5 as a sign of your patriotism. Show me not your frothing rage about people who’ve come to work and earn their way by doing the labors you’re “too good” to do. Show me instead your service. Your daily devotional to the body politic (that means the people you agree with and disagree with alike!) through a lifetime of work to the little corner of turf you call home or to the entirety of the nation through elevated means. Show me calloused hands and sleepless nights and concern for someone other than yourself and your kin. Show me your life lived so that others might thrive.
The thing about American patriotism that Agent Orange doesn’t have the capacity to understand (and Roger Goodell doesn’t have the balls to reiterate within his organization) is that we have the powerful, glorious freedom to proudly and unabashedly dissent. We are given the clear, unequivocal freedom to love our country so much as to tell it when we feel like it’s behaving badly. When faced with the merely undesirable or the outrageously intolerable or the various degrees of grievance in between, we are given the great gift to do what is necessary to register our displeasure. There are few things more sacred and imbedded in our history and our foundational values than the idea of regular, open, and protected public dissent. By giving us this from the very beginning, the people of our body politic enjoy the power, privilege and responsibility to hold the government accountable for its actions.
Indeed, sometimes the most supreme act of love is in the act of confrontation, truth telling and holding one to account. Low expectation isn’t love. Silence in the face of inadequacy and buffoonery isn’t loyalty. This is bullshit because this is bullshit.
To be clear, I’m still not inviting the NFL into my home next season. I won’t give it my viewership. I won’t give it my sons’ attentions. I will not purchase its merchandise. But I will pay attention to the players who continue their protest. I’ll make sure my sons know their names. I’ll be sure to keep telling the story of why they continue to kneel. I’ll encourage my boys to choose to be courageous, even when it’s uncomfortable, if they believe that what they are doing is right and in service to others.
My Quiet Thoughts tonight come from the notes I wrote two years ago after the election. It’s true that the long, sustained bombardment of outrage after outrage (most legitimate, others not so much) has dulled the senses. We’re losing discipline here. That’s a huge problem because we’ve come to the make-or-break point of this presidency. The midterms are everything. This is the time for renewed vigor that’s sustained until we get to the mid-terms. This is what I wrote:
- Intellectualism will be under attack. Therefore, I will read widely and ferociously.
- Art will be under attack. Therefore, I will create with purpose, intensity, and frequency.
- Journalism will be under attack. Therefore, I will read it with increased scrutiny (and pay for it).
- Non-Violent Radicalism will be under attack. Therefore, I will seek radical thought and apply it appropriately.
- History will be under attack. Therefore, I will read it, preserve it and teach it to my children with integrity.
- Color will be under attack. Therefore, I will be beautiful, graceful and conspicuous with my presence.
All of these things have come to pass. And I have done my best to keep up my resistance in these ways. I’m exhausted, but I’m still here.
When the big things come ‘round and they make you angry, you’ve got to stop and check your list. If you didn’t make one, now is the time. Make it small, make it tangible, make it actionable. Commit to the resistance that you can do personally that will keep you strong and resilient and engaged. When you’re done making your list, choose to plant your feet in front of the fires you care about, lend a hand when other fires burn out of control for a bit, and spread the word about the fires ever raging in the distance. Remember, you cannot save everything. We, individually, cannot save everything. But we, collectively, can save a whole hell of a lot.
This is how we continue to be the light shining brightly in the darkness, Dear Reader. When lantern are put out, or others fade from fatigue, the rest of us must stand firm and shine on.
It’s a breezy, warm night here in Massachusetts, Dear Reader. The wind blows and the rustle of the maturing leaves is a symphony to the ears. It’s too early for crickets. That’s who is missing now. Something to look forward to as the season progresses.
My Dear Reader, you are still here and you are strong and your efforts do not go unnoticed. The gifts that you give deserve wishes in return. Here are my Friday wishes for you. I wish you a moment of pure, unadulterated, totally guilt-free relaxation. It might only last for a minute, but that would still be a gift. I wish you time with a book in the sunshine. Bonus points it you are laid out in a hammock or on a blanket. Extra bonus points if you get through a chapter without giving into the temptation to look at your phone. I wish you one good guilty summer food: the fried clams, the hot dog, the cotton candy, the billion-scoop ice cream cone. Remember, seasons are marked by food and they should be enjoyed. Do make sure you share, though. Food tastes better when it’s shared. I wish you time to express your patriotism. How you choose to do that is up to you. As ever, I wish you a very good story, preferably told over drinks in an unhurried sort of place. I wish you the squeeze of a held hand, a kiss on the cheek, a small but powerful intimacy shared between you and the love of your life. Let the power come not from the gesture itself, but in the knowing that such an action only has meaning because it’s between the two of you.
You are loved, Dear Reader. What you do in this world matters. You give people the courage to be their best selves. You encourage the voice of those who are watching you to sing out loudly and with conviction. Because you shine so brightly, others are able to find their way. You are infinitely beautiful because of this and so much more.
Until Monday, shine on and take care.