The Star Spangled Divide

So I think you should stand during the National Anthem…

That sentence has been rolling around in my head all week, and it was inspired by the confluence of the virtual assault of the Take a Knee news experienced by anyone with a TV and by Louis C.K.’s opening line in his latest show, Louis C.K. 2017:

“So I don’t think you should get an abortion…”

If you know Louis C.K., though, you know that a but is coming and with the but he talks about how complicated the issue really is with deference to both Pro-Life and Pro-Choice advocates. Far be it from me to compare myself to a genius like Louis C.K., but it’s kind of how I feel about the Take a Knee movement. And like Louie, I also have a but.

Not everybody places the sort of meaning I do on the American flag or the National Anthem, which is OK with me. Sort of.

I’ve been dismissively told by friends at times that the flag is merely a symbol. The implication being that it is something unremarkable; a piece of cloth that doesn’t really mean anything significant. I’ve been told by other friends that because of the corruption of our elected leaders that the National Anthem isn’t worthy of the respect of standing for it. That, somehow, standing when you hear it is demonstrating allegiance to people unworthy of your respect. And then, of course, there’s apathy. The sense that it’s simply not worth the time and attention to take two minutes out of your day to demonstrate respect for these seemingly meaningless symbols.

I’ve stood at attention with my hand over my heart in both sports bars and the homes of friends when the Anthem comes on before a game. And while I was standing, those same friends and others around me typically sat and talked over it in between stuffing their faces with wings and French fries. I didn’t respect them any less but I always wondered at the lack of decorum it seemed to represent to me.

The National Anthem and the American flag, while merely symbolic to some, have great meaning to me, which is articulated in the founding documents of our country—yours and mine. As such, I find them to be both remarkable and worthy of respect, which is why I typically stand during the Anthem and face the flag—though I’ve stopped doing that in public. For me, it began to underscore something unseemly I simply didn’t care to be reminded of any longer, and which brings me to my but.

The same Constitution that I revere and that motivates me to honor the intention it brings to bear, demands that I respect someone else’s right to remain seated or even to take a knee, no matter their reason for doing it.

If someone decides to take a knee as the National Anthem is played or sung, who am I to say that what is intended is disrespect?
Maybe that person with the bowed head on one knee is trying to draw attention to a cultural divide that I can’t quite understand.
Maybe that person is genuinely distressed about a very big problem with deep cultural roots I can’t see.
Maybe that person is praying for the healing of a nation deeply divided.

Maybe not—but in either case it’s not really my business to divine a motive from an action I observe from afar. My business is to leave the world better than I found it, and I honestly think most of us try very hard to do that. Maybe when I stand and s/he kneels we’re both honoring the precepts on which our country was founded, precepts, which—If everyone fully embraced in a practical way—would certainly make the world a better place.

By the way, another friend astutely pointed out, “Why play the National Anthem at sporting events at all?” and I tend to agree with her sentiment. The Battle of Baltimore Harbor and the War of 1812 have very little to do with the Cowboys putting one in the win column. Neither do The Constitution, The Declaration of Independence, or The Bill of Rights, for that matter.

It’s a nice tradition; I like it, but maybe, just maybe, it trivializes the very meaning I attach to those things. I don’t know.

Here’s what I do know: it’s football season so

Play ball!


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