The temptation is strong to begin by expressing what patriotism is not, in my view. But let’s postpone that luxury for a moment and consider first how our sense of what it means has changed.
Dictionaries agree that patriotism is love of and devotion to one’s country. Most of us, I suspect, feel comfortable checking that box. We do love our country and feel devoted to it. But what do we mean by our “country?” Is it the purple mountains, the silvery sea, the gleaming cities, the lush, rolling farmland, small town parades on July 4, baseball games, and countless other heart-warming, positive images we associate with America? Well, maybe so.
But this analogy fits and is worth considering: We learn as children that a church, (synagogue, temple, mosque) is not a building but its congregation, the people who worship together, its community of faith who are drawn to one another by shared beliefs. If your faith community is anything like mine, it is populated by a widely diverse group, people old and young; sick and well; native-born and immigrant; gay, straight or transgender, wearing skins of various colors. This is how I think of “my country.”
The shock of 9/11/2001 made us feel vulnerable and could have drawn us together as a people, but for the power and influence of a relative few who have worked hard to divide us for the past eight years.
What I believe patriotism is not: It is not flying the largest flag you can over your car dealership or commercial establishment, night and day, rain or shine, in violation of the nation’s flag code, to flout your patriotism and tempt customers. It is not wearing a lapel pin. It is not substituting the singing of “God Bless America” for “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the 7th-inning stretch. It is not wearing an American flag necktie, shirt, pants, do-rag or any other article of clothing, also violations of the flag code.
My definition of patriotism is truly loving the people populating your country — all of them — and living as if you do, looking for opportunities to help, investing your time, talents and efforts to make someone else’s life easier. A nation is its people, a huge family.
“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Indivisible? I don’t think so. But you can change that. If you would rather unite than divide us, there is nothing more patriotic you could do than vote that way.
Today’s word: forte. Musicians know it to mean “loud.” It has other meanings. One identifies forte as the strongest part of a sword’s blade. We often use forte to describe someone’s strong point, but we mispronounce it in that usage as for-TAY, which is the way musicians would say it. No. Fort is correct if we are speaking of one’s strong point.