“If I could do just one near perfect thing I’d be happy. They’d write it on my grave or when they scatter my ashes”- Belle and Sebastian, If She Wants Me
Believe it or not that line has more to say about my patriotism than any other quote, axiom, parable, or psalm that I can think of. As a grad student and former bachelor student in History and Political Science I am well aware that I have spent the last 6 years of my life paying (dearly) for the privilege to over-think. It was while listening to that very song and walking through an Iowa college campus-town on the 3rd anniversary of 9/11 that an observation struck me as hard as it was belated, there were flags everywhere, and they meant nothing to me!
Now for as long as I can remember the American flag, for all of its enviable geometric beauty, has never really held much weight with me, a thought that I secreted way for too long considering it some sub-conscious betrayal of a lack of patriotism. It was only that day however that I understood why.
Flags are not for me. Rather our documents, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights, are what I love about our nation. I marvel at the fact that our founders had the courage to stand up to and place the burden of history and of the lives of millions of future Americans and placed it squarely on their own shoulders. Then they had the bravado to attempt writing documents that attempted to crystallized an entire civilization’s history philosophy progress and laws. Imagine having to write the equivalent of a Dear John letter that would eventually become guarantee of ownership over those beliefs and systems to the future and you might get an idea of how badly Jefferson could have probably used a Unisom.
But even beyond this courage and brilliance, think of the humility you would have to possess to be to know that all your hard work and years of over-thinking could very well turn out to be crap, and then have the foresight to let the future take what you have wrought and then change it possibly to correct a major oversight (think The 1st Amendment) or possibly in utter contempt for your small mindedness (think the 13th).
And that is truly why the static unchanging flag is not what stirs my patriotism.
It is too solid, too linear, too perfect. This I believe: the grand sweeping documents of our values and law, warts and all, tell me more about why and how I am patriotic then a flag ever could. So now when I see the flag I think of what our founders left us instead and how perfectly imperfect their capitalization was (assuming I am lucky enough to read this on air we’ll just assume that the audience has memorized Jefferson’s grammar):
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Now THAT is near perfect.
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