Tuesday, October 25, 2016

In Praise of, In Hope For, The Underdog: GO CUBS!

“I'm a poor underdog
But tonight I will bark
With the great Overdog
That romps through the dark.”
--Robert Frost, "Canis Major", 1928

Hard to believe that it was it really twelve years ago this week, when a perennial also ran, a team that perpetually broke the hearts of its fans for decades: our Boston Red Sox: they finally, finally, won it all.  It was October 27th, 2004, a Wednesday, at exactly 11:39 pm Eastern Standard Time; a chilly autumn evening, featuring a lunar eclipse, with an oversized bright yellow full moon hanging over the skies of New England. 

Millions of us remember exactly where were, what we were doing, who we were with, as we waited for redemption, after almost nine decades of futility. As Joe Castiglione called it on the radio: “Swing and a ground ball stabbed by Foulke! He has it, he underhands to first – and the Boston Red Sox are the World Champions! For the first time in 86 years, the Red Sox have won baseball's world championship! Can you believe it?!”

From underdog to top dog, with one swing of the bat. Believe it. 

The Sox have gone on to win two more championships, in 2007 and ‘13, and those were great too, but I’ll confess. A nostalgic part of me misses those days and nights before ‘04, of cheering for our loveable losers. So many summers of hope followed by inevitable September swoons, when the underdog Sox couldn’t quite make it. A ball trickled through the legs. A hitter swung and missed.  It always hurt to watch them lose yet there was a romantic dependability to their underdog struggles, their epic failures somehow binding us all together here in New England.  They were masters at finding ways to lose but they were our underdogs. 

Now the title of America’s underdog goes to the Chicago Cubs who this week begin their quest to finally overcome their October demons.  Think 86 years is a long time? Try waiting 108 years for a championship.  The last time the Cubs captured a World Series, Teddy Roosevelt was President, Henry Ford unveiled the Model T, and for the first time ever, women were elected as delegates to a national political convention, the Democrats’ gathering in Denver. 

Cub’s fans: we get your pain.  We’ve been there. 

But…what if the Cubs actually win? Who will then be our next underdog? Because there is something about an underdog that so appeals to us as humans. Makes us want to root for the team or the person or a cause that is supposed to lose, but then somehow triumphs. Slays the giant.  Overcomes impossible odds and the pull of history.   

David versus Goliath. Harry Truman beating Thomas Dewey for the Presidency in 1948, the biggest political upset of the twentieth century. Two twenty something computer geeks working in a suburban garage in 1970’s southern California, who took on IBM, the biggest technology company in the world, and eventually won.  A scrappy and cranky socialist Senator from Vermont who almost took down a political family dynasty. 

Underdogs somehow manage to capture our hearts and break our hearts simultaneously, with stories that are beautiful and bittersweet. Underdogs are just more fun to cheer for, more exciting, as they dance on the edge between ignominy and victory

According to the Oxford English Dictionary “underdog” was first used in the unsavory world of dog fighting in the nineteenth century. At fight’s end, the losing dog inevitably ended up underneath the winning top dog. The origin of the word may be crude but our response to the mismatch is clear. 


We love underdogs. They embody the myth and hope that if they can do the impossible, then maybe we can too. If they can come from behind and streak by the favorite, maybe every dog (and every human) just might have its day, some day. Anything can happen in the competition called life.

That’s what we want to believe. In a way, that’s what we need to believe. About ourselves. About the world. That good eventually triumphs over evil.  That the downtrodden will rise up and overcome their oppressors.  That in a just world, if we work hard and long enough, our day in the sun will come.    

So this week I’ll be rooting for the Cubbies, as they play against the Cleveland Indians. And to my long suffering friends who are Cubs’ fans, who knows? Maybe, just maybe, this year, is the year, your year. 

You gotta love the underdog. GO CUBS!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

What's More Creepy Than a Clown? A Pseudo News Story.

“And where are the clowns? Send in the clowns. Don't bother, they're here.”
   --Stephen Sondheim, “A Little Night Music”

Clowns are just clowns. Right?

Like Bozo the Clown, the one with the flaming swirl of bright red hair. Or Emmett Kelly, America’s most famous clown. His “Weary Willie” character headlined circuses for years. My favorite clown is “Willie Whistle”, a sailor hat wearing clown who hosted a kid’s cartoon show on Boston TV in the nineteen sixties. Willie never spoke but whistled and squeaked to an at home audience of kids like me who adored him.  

He was funny. He was harmless.  He was nice. He was a clown. 

That’s what clowns are supposed to be: symbols of human foolishness, clowns as the fools who make us laugh.  Clowns have been around a very long time in various guises, throughout history: the court jester, the trickster, the buffoon, the comic relief. Nothing out of the ordinary.

That is unless we encounter a “Creepy Clown”.  Have you heard? So called “Creepy Clown” sightings and scares and rumors are currently all a’twitter on Twitter and Facebook, even the lead on mainstream news sites. This “story” is causing lots of cultural chatter and energy. Consider an October 10th NBC “news” story: “America Under Siege: Creepy Clown’ Reports and Hoaxes Keep Coming”.

How’s that for a creepy headline?

Correspondent Alex Johnson breathlessly reports about: “a spate of clown scares across the country….sightings of [creepy clowns] have spread to two dozen states.” So a Connecticut school district bans clown masks. A creepy parent in Auburn, Massachusetts is charged with disorderly conduct for wearing a clown mask while following a school bus in his car. A false clown scare locked down a New Hampshire college dorm.  Google “Creepy Clown” and you’ll discover almost 7,000,000 results. My unscientific poll of several parents confirmed that fears about creepy clowns are now scaring lots of kids in schools and on playgrounds and at bedtime.  

But dig deeper and you’ll find most of this “news” is not really news, not in a traditional sense. Not based on fact, but instead mostly fear.  Much more heat than light, more rumor than reality. The overwhelming number of police reports about malevolent clowns are hoaxes, really bad practical jokes. Yet the reports continue and so a fake story becomes a fear story that just won’t quit, like a dog chasing its own tail.

Until the media finds something else to scare us with, or scare us about.  Reminds me of the cliché about TV news: “If it bleeds, it leads.”  If you want higher ratings, more views on your website, more hits on your digital headline, just frighten folks. Makes me wonder if maybe I am the rube in falling for this kind of tale. I’m not afraid of clowns, not yet, but maybe I should be!

We are living in strange days in America and yes, there are some realities to be feared.  An out of control and bruising election season that seems to never end or just shut up.  Gun ownership at historic highs, so many folks, so afraid. Hurricanes churning up the coast.  If we really want to be scared all we need to do is turn on the TV or turn on the computer or scroll through our phones’ news feed. Then we’ll easily find lots of reports about everything that is supposed to frighten the heck out of us.

But as a person of faith (the polar opposite of fear) I’ve learned that if I seek and expect to see the bad in the world, I will absolutely find some bad news. The scary. The awful.  The threatening.  But so too: if I choose to seek some good news, I can find that as well.  Acts of kindness.  Glimmers of hope. The reality that most people are good at heart.  Even clowns! As the blogger Seth Godin writes, “The real question is: what's our goal? Every time we hook ourselves up to a device that shocks us into a fear-based posture on a regular basis, we're making a choice about the world and how we experience it.”

So while the media may continue to send in the clowns, I, for one, refuse to take the bait.  Better yet I think I’ll silence my phone, click off the news and instead take a nice long walk under a canopy of technicolor leaves. Say a prayer of thanks for all the good in this world, in my world. The good is always there to enjoy and appreciate. 

I’d be a fool not to look for it. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Democracy Says: Do Your Job. Will We Step Up?

“There can be no daily democracy without daily citizenship.”           --Ralph Nader

April 26th, 1968.

Presidential candidate Robert Kennedy spoke before a group of medical students at Indiana University Medical Center, and laid out his plan to increase federal funding and programs to care for the most vulnerable in the nation: the poor, the elderly, and the sick.  The crowd was scornful of his vision and their skepticism was summed up in a question asked by one of those young students.

“Where are we going to get the money to pay for all these new programs you’re proposing?” Without hesitation, Kennedy replied, “From you…you are the privileged ones here. It’s easy for you to sit back and say it’s the fault of the Federal Government. But it’s our responsibility too. It’s our society too….”

Can any of us imagine a present day candidate for office having the courage to push back so strongly against a group of voters? Having the idealism and the fire to actually call citizens out? Challenge folks to step up and to do their part for democracy, in such stark and clear rhetoric? I’m hard pressed to find such leaders in our current political climate. 

Instead, so much of the time in our frantic run up to the election on November 8th, what I mostly hear from candidates at every level of government is this: “I promise that I will do this and this and this for you!”  Voters eat it up because their questions often seem to be: “What are you going to do for me? For my tribe?  For my special interest group? For my tax bracket? For my one life?”

Lost in this rush of civic narcissism and political pandering, is one forgotten democratic ideal: we, collectively, are the society, the government, the community, and the neighborhood.  We.  We are responsible, one to another, in building up the nation and creating institutions that reflect the will of the people. We. Us. All the people.  Therefore it is each of our responsibilities to do the work of democracy, to step up and ask not, “What’s in it for me?” but instead, “What can I do as a citizen to contribute to the common good?”

Yes, I know I’m going all idealistic here. I know to suggest that democracy can and still and must work somehow, is swimming upstream against a tide of wearied cynicism and ugly public language that marks our current political dialogue. Guilty as charged.  I’m a wide eyed cheerleader for democracy. I still believe that the best society always balances individual rights with communal responsibilities.  That like it or not, we are all common passengers on the ship of state called the United States of America and so, somehow, we need to figure out, together, how to journey as one.  And for me, that work begins when every single citizen does their part, their job, in our democracy. 

I’ve learned these citizenship lessons in many settings: from my faith that teaches me the best life is one always devoted, in part, to being a good neighbor, making this world a better place.  I learned it from parents and grandparents who sacrificed their individual good for a greater good. I learn it from neighbors who volunteer as a regular part of life: in a soup kitchen, on a Habitat for Humanity site, on a town board, tutoring kids, teaching prisoners.  I’ll relearn it on November 8th when I take my place in line and cast my vote. 

The key learning in all of this is one simple transformation: getting from “me” to “we”.

So here’s a charge. It is less than four weeks until Democracy Day.  If you’ve not yet done so, register to vote and encourage others to do so too.  The deadline in Massachusetts is October 19th.  Study the issues, especially the four ballot questions that have been largely overshadowed by the Presidential election.  Attend a public forum like the one I am helping to organize in my home town on October 20th, about legalizing marijuana.  For it? Against it? Do the research. Become informed.  Remember that all politics is local.  Town and city citizen-led boards are always in need of members.  Volunteer.  Campaign for your candidate. Make phone calls, ring doorbells, and help get out the vote.

Democracy says to us: “Do your job.”  Democracy works if we work it; of this I am fully convinced and convicted.  Democracy works, but it needs us, workers, to make it work.       

See you at the polls.




Monday, October 3, 2016

What Makes a Hero? It's About More Than Home Runs

Hero (noun) 1. a person noted for courageous acts or nobility of character; a person who, in the opinion of others, has special achievements, abilities, or personal qualities and is regarded as a role model or ideal   --Merriam-Webster Dictionary

David Ortiz: he will be missed. 

After playing in 2,408 games for the past twenty major league seasons, sixteen of those for our own Boston Red Sox baseball team, this past weekend Ortiz played in his final regular season competition. That’s not breaking news. His impending retirement has dominated sports and news reports all summer and into this fall.

Ortiz will certainly be missed for his athletic prowess: 541 home runs, 1,768 runs batted in, three world championships, so many clutch hits and walk off homers. Ortiz has an uncanny ability to step into the most high pressure of situations and then deliver. He’ll be missed for his outsize personality and joyful smile too, his leadership on the team and in the community, his philanthropy. Ortiz’ foundation has raised millions of dollars to help care for sick children in his native Dominican Republic and New England. 

But here’s what I think so many of us as fans and New Englanders will most miss about Ortiz, as he walks off the field, puts down his bat and hangs up his spikes. Ortiz is a good man, a good person, in the deepest sense. His legacy will be about so much more than highlight films or statistics. He was strong of body, yes.  Big of ego, sure. Not perfect: he was named in a 2003 Major League Baseball report as a suspected performance enhancing drug user, a charge he vehemently denies. He had a wicked temper too, could blow his stack at a bad call, a missed swing. Some don’t like his post home run swagger.

Yet at a time in our culture when the folks we lionize seem so "unheroic", so tainted, so flawed, so vapid, so disposable, so weak of character, Ortiz will be missed (at least by this fan) for his essential goodness.  That’s his rep among all who knew him, played with him, watched him.  He always stops to greet an adoring kid or give advice to a young teammate.  He’s perpetually positive.  He embraces the great responsibility that accompanies being in the spotlight. That’s why Ortiz is a true hero: not for what he did merely on the field, not because he’s larger than life, but because of how he lives, in relationship to others in this life.

Take his farewell speech, delivered on Sunday afternoon before 36,787 fans at Fenway Park, in a cold and raw October chill. For five and a half minutes, he spoke.  Not about his achievements.  Not to puff himself up.  Instead, the whole speech was one of thanks. Thanksgiving. Gratitude. First to God. Then to his family, his teammates, the media, the organization and finally to the fans. He even thanked the anonymous clubhouse folks who washed his uniforms for all those years.  

These are strange, disquieting days in our land when it comes to the women and men we so often deem as “heroic”.  Billionaires can brag about their ability to not pay any taxes and then be applauded by so many. Politicians can spend most of their time with the privileged and the powerful, portray themselves as “just one of the people”, and we actually believe them.  Athletic icons get hits on the field and then hit their spouses, and still, we cheer them on. We are drowning in a social media flood of celebrity culture, where the famous are famous, not for their decency, but instead for their infamy.     

Whom should we admire, look up to, respect, and seek to emulate in our world? What kind of moral lessons do our children and youth learn when they watch TV or go to a game or surf the internet or delve into Twitter or Facebook? When we select our heroes and heroines, what does that say about us as humans, as a society, as hero worshippers?

So farewell David. Godspeed.

Have no doubt that you will be missed by millions of us. We’ll miss the hits. Miss the enthusiasm and fiery spirit you brought to every game.  Miss the victories you so often were able to secure, by just one swing of your mighty bat.  But most of all we will miss you, you.  The person.  A child of God, who took the gifts you were given at birth and then used them well, used them wisely, used them in the service of others. We’ll miss the kindness you showed.  The generosity you embodied.  The grace with which you play the game of life. 

That’s what makes you a real hero to so many. That’s why we’ll miss you. Thank you.

Monday, September 26, 2016

What America Really Needs: Less Debating, More Civility.

In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas…Unity in necessary things; liberty in doubtful things; charity in all things."
-- Archbishop Marco Antonio de Dominis, 1617

Before you ask me, the answer is “no”. I won’t watch any of the Presidential debates this year.  Unlike the 100 million or more of my fellow Americans who are estimated to have viewed the first of these partisan slugfests, I stuck with “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, one of my all time favorite TV shows. For one night Captain Picard was my candidate of choice.

It’s not for lack of interest. I’m not civically disengaging. I’ve probably read more and talked with others more and thought more and written more about this election, than any other Presidential competition in my lifetime. I’m a news junkie. Normally I’d eat this stuff up and yet, I pass for one simple reason.

Civility, and the lack thereof in our 2016 election cycle. Civility: the virtue of being able to respect and be in community with your opponent, while still disagreeing.  Civility: basic politeness, manners, the kind of stuff we were taught as kids: by our parents, our teachers, our elders.  Wait your turn to speak.  Watch your language.  When you win, don’t gloat. When you lose, show grace and accept the results.  Civility: the social glue that binds us together in community, especially when we live and work side by side with folks who do not share our beliefs. 

But this hope for civility: basic human decency in how we treat one another across the political and social divide? I don’t think I’ve ever seen it more absent than right now in our country and this conflict is embodied in the debates. Debates: politics as blood sport. Politics as Wrestlemania.

Candidates wait to pounce.  The audience gleefully hopes “the enemy” will make a gaffe or a goof or a mistake.  The media, play by play announcers, analyzing not the weight of substantive policy, but the fluff of appearance, as if they are calling a beauty pageant.  Did he roll his eyes again? Did she have that fake smile again? Who “won”? Who “lost”? 


Because here’s a basic truth about November 9th, the day after the election.  That morning 45 percent or so of American voters (if current polls hold true) will be very disappointed because their candidate, cause, ideology, lost.  Yet still we’ll all have to live together, going ahead. Figure out how to be America and Americans in community.  Still we’ll have to face our mutual problems, regardless of ideology.  Neighborhood crime and violence and poverty. A national opioid crisis.  An economy leaving behind millions of our neighbors.  Terrorism at home and abroad. A changing national demographic: some groups grow, some groups shrink. 

We can debate all we want, yell all we want, post our opinions on Facebook all we want about the rightness of our beliefs. Go for it.  But then remember: we share a common home, all 319 million of us.  A debate, a vote, does not change that reality. 

That’s why we need civility. As a person of faith I learned the central rule of civility from Jesus. Once when asked what the most important law was in his tradition, he simply answered, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Pretty basic stuff. It appears in almost all faiths and philosophies. Treat “the other” as you wish to be treated.  You don’t have to agree with them on everything. Your beliefs are not diminished when you honor the humanity of your opponent.  


There was a great photo that went viral on social media last week, a snapshot taken in Washington, D.C. at the dedication of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.  Pictured are two Presidential couples, the Bushes and the Obamas, natural enemies, right? Separated by race, politics, geography, life experience.  Yet there they are, standing together, smiling. In the center is President Bush, a relaxed grin on his face, leaning back into Michelle Obama’s embrace. They looks like four old friends, sharing an inside joke.  Will such rapprochement save the republic? No.  But it teaches us that civility can work, if we choose to work it. One relationship at a time.

To be civil: in all our interactions, political and personal.  It pays off. On this I pray that there is no debate.  Now back to “Star Trek”.


Monday, September 19, 2016

One Ordinary Man. One Extraordinary Act of Heroism. Thanks Again Sully.

“Heroes are ordinary people who make themselves extraordinary.” --Gerard Way

What makes a hero, a hero…heroic?  After a recent trip to my local theater to see the new Clint Eastwood directed movie “Sully”, starring Tom Hanks, I may just have to rethink my answer to that question. 

The film tells the story of “The Miracle on the Hudson”. On a frigid January morning in 2009, USAir Flight 1549, with 155 souls on board, was forced to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River in New York City. The aircraft was brought down by the most extraordinary of circumstances: a bird strike, resulting in both of the plane’s engines flaming out and stalling. In the 208 excruciating seconds after the accident (less than four minutes), Captain Chesley Sullenberger (“Sully”), and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles somehow safely brought the plane down for a water landing.

The miracle, of course, is that all 155 passengers and crew walked away from that disaster, alive.  Not one person lost. Not one major injury or casualty.  Every one survived because two ordinary people did their jobs, acted extraordinarily, in a moment when any panic, any mistake, any slip up, any hesitation could have resulted in death for some, many, even most of the people on that plane. 

In watching the movie and remembering that story again, what most impressed me was how very ordinary Sully was: in how he is portrayed in the movie, and still is, in real life, almost eight years after that amazing day.  Sully doesn’t look the part of hero, at least not like the heroes and heroines our culture so loves to lionize, idolize, and worship.  He’s not a muscle bound athlete or an over coiffed pop singer.  No: this hero is tall and thin and white haired, and sports a decidedly unfashionable eighties mustache. Sully could easily pass for an insurance salesman, or a bank manager, or the low key neighbor next door who lends you his lawnmower. 

His act of heroism isn’t the stuff of cliché drama either: no overheated swashbuckling exploits or over the top dramatic speeches to save the day. As the incident unfolds, with everything hanging in the balance, he’s cool and calm: giving orders in a steady voice, making multiple decisions, one right after the other, following procedure. After the plane splashes down, he wades through the plane’s interior as it slowly fills up with icy water, making sure that every last person is evacuated safely, no one left behind. Only then does he save himself. 

Strange how we as a world have come to think of our heroes, the ones who inevitably grab the headlines, fill up the twitter feeds, and dominate our cultural conversation.  Now a hero is the politician who struts and blusters across the stage, clothed in the language of shameless self promotion, and all against a backdrop of red, white and blue.  Or a hero is the sports icon who hits a ball or makes a touchdown and then flips his bat or spikes the ball to make sure that every one in the stadium knows just how awesome he is. We deify the business titan who makes hundreds of millions of dollars in the bare knuckled game called capitalism, the singer who tops the charts. 

But to me a hero is someone more like Sully.  An everyday often anonymous person who summons the strength and courage and character to do the right thing when life demands it.  Not for adulation or economic gain but because this is their job, their call. Like my friend who for more than twenty years has faithfully and lovingly cared for his spouse, who suffers from a chronic, debilitating disease.  With grace and tenderness he cares for her, day in and day out.  Or the neighbor I know who visits a nearby women’s prison every single week and tutors the inmates, helps them prepare for life on the outside.  Her “pay” comes in the satisfaction of helping someone in need. 

Heroes like this actually abound in our world. We just have to look for them, beyond the spotlight, beyond the warped and weird ways we so often define heroism. Real heroes do the right thing because their faith in God compels them; because they could do no other; because they have decided to use their one God given life in the service of others and not just to serve themselves alone. 

Real heroes have a job and then just do their jobs.

As Sully wrote in his autobiography “Highest Duty”, “Everyone's reputation is made on a daily basis. There are little incremental things - worthwhile efforts, moment you were helpful to others - and after a life time, they add up to something. You can feel as if you lived and it mattered." 

So here’s to the Sullys, the real heroes and heroines in our world.  And who knows? Maybe you or I: we can be heroes too.



Monday, September 12, 2016

Just What Does It Mean to Be a Patriot?

Patriot (noun) 1. A person who loves, supports, and defends his or her country and its interests with devotion.   
--Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary

It was the biggest American flag I have ever seen, a gargantuan flag, a sea of red, white and blue fabric. It covered the entire field in a 9/11 remembrance ceremony held before the New England Patriots football game this past Sunday evening in Arizona.  How big was that symbol of America? Try 300 hundred feet long by 160 feet wide, so huge that it took more than a hundred people to unfurl and then hold it still, as Kristen Chenoweth, sang “The Star Spangled Banner”.  As the music swelled and the 80,000 plus folks assembled there stood for the anthem, it made me wonder.

Is that what it means to be patriotic and a patriot, to really love the nation you call home? Is one a patriot because you know all the words to a song and then sing it out loud at a sports game? Or if you take off your hat and stand up and then cheer loudly at the end?

Is that patriotism?

Earlier that day I was blessed to visit a little known but amazing private museum in Natick, Massachusetts, the Museum of World War II. It houses one of the largest collections of WWII memorabilia in the world.  I spent two and half hours roaming through the halls of that place, saw some amazing and breathtaking items, all lovingly preserved, from the greatest social cataclysm of the last century.  I touched a pair of binoculars salvaged from the USS Arizona, a ship which went down on December 7, 1941, when America was attacked at Pearl Harbor.  It gave me pause, made me think about the men and women who died that day, trying their best to defend their homeland and protect their fellow citizens.  Millions and millions of American soldiers and civilians and citizens all somehow came together in the war years, defeated fascism, defended freedom.

Is that patriotism? To put one’s life on the line for others, in courage and in service?

Earlier in the week I worked at the polls on our statewide Primary Day, checked local voters in. From 7 to 11 am I sat behind a table and crossed folks’ names off a voter list, then handed my neighbors a ballot.  The turnout was low but next November 8th it will be a different story as our nation chooses a President.  On that day and night, if past trends hold, more than 90 percent of my neighbors here in town will vote.  Go into a private booth. Choose the man or woman who will guide our ship of state and have the power to wage war or to seek peace, to unite or divide us.  All because we as citizens will give one of those candidates the power to do so.  We vote because they work for us.

Is that patriotism?  To exercise this civic responsibility to choose our leaders?

Lately our culture has been caught up in one of our periodic debates about just what it means to be a patriot and patriotic, sparked by the refusal of a professional athlete to stand during the playing of the national anthem at a football game. For a few days it was all the talk on social media and the airwaves. Some labeled him a traitor to his country for that act, declaring he is anything but a patriot.  Others have defended the protest, declaring that his freedom to dissent is what makes a patriot, a patriot.      

But it begs the questions. What is patriotism?  Who is a patriot? Who is not? And who gets to decide?

Is patriotism about symbols and rituals?  Like the flag I fly outside of my house. A lapel pin I sport on my suit.  A red white and blue peace bumper sticker on my car.  Watching fireworks on the 4th of July, and then cheering when the veterans march on by in a parade. When I rise at Fenway Park and sing along with 40,000 other folks that “our flag was still there.” Is that it?  Can I claim the title of patriot if I do no more than cover myself in the appearance and trappings of patriotism?

Or is patriotism about something more substantial, more concrete, more sacrificial even?  Like serving in the military, or at the least, as a citizen, supporting those women and men who defend me. Thanking them. Making sure that when they come home they have all the services and resources they need to pick up their lives again.  Paying my fair share of taxes: maybe that’s what a patriot does.  Recognizes that part of our national covenant with and to one another is taking the fruits of what we’ve earned in freedom and then sharing it with those who have less or need a hand up or help. Is patriotism found in those who push back against the government, who protest in sincerity and non-violence? Maybe patriotism happens when we volunteer in our communities—build a Habitat for Humanity house, coach Little League, tutor an inner city kid, serve a meal at a homeless shelter. Is patriotism somehow connected to affirming the truth that we are all in this experiment called democracy together, and that we need each other.

What does it mean to be patriotic and a patriot? 

I don’t claim to have a lock on just how to answer that question; nor do I feel I have the right to say just who is a patriot and who is not.  I can only speak for myself. But this I do know: a patriot’s job is to constantly ask one’s self: “If I really do love my country, then what am I doing to embody and act on this devotion?”

So I’ll keep flying my American flag in gratitude, but for me, there has got to be more than just this, to being a patriot and to being patriotic.