A Little Bit of Wonder is where I journal about the somewhat roundabout way that I have been working to establish a career and a strong sense of self--I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about "direction" and "identity." I have a Master's Degree in Literature, but I'm no longer working as an English Professor; I'm starting the next step in my life as I work to establish a career as a writer in the non-profit sector.

At my companion blog, Little Wonder's Recommended Reading, you will find reviews for both books and other blogs that I enjoy. The two blogs are inter-linked, so you can access my reviews and reading challenges from the sidebar on the left.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

This Thing Called Patriotism

In Michigan, the brilliantly colored leaves start to appear in September and stick around for about a month, whereas a little further south, the leaves don't really start to turn until late October. I still miss fall up in the Midwest, which always meant weekend after weekend of trips to the Cider Mill and walks around the cold, clear lakes to admire the trees. But the past few days, the leaves have finally been changing colors here in Washington D.C. and I've found myself surrounded by leaves that are pumpkin, cranberry, mustard... Why do autumn leaves always make me think of Thanksgiving food? (I guess it's the bad poet in me, left over from junior high.)

And oh, yeah. Barack Obama is now the president-elect. There's more change around here this November than usual. Suddenly the crisp fall air, which is one of my favorite smells, seems even sweeter. Yesterday, I felt like I was waking up to a whole new world; the headlines are calling it the "Dawning of a New Era" and equally optimistic titles. It's hard not to give in to the celebratory mood, so I cranked up my radio and sang along with an eclectic mix of energizing music--Queen, Amy Grant, the Dandy Worhols... That's right, Obama is "Good for me, baby" and now America can once again say to the world, "We will, we will, rock you!"

I know, it's cheesy. But I have this strange feeling inside--I think they call it patriotism (along with a strong dose of optimism and hope--perhaps even an unrealistic amount). My grandparents, who lived through both the Great Depression and World War II, have described this feeling to me. Grandma wasn't exactly Rosie the Riveter, but she did start working for the telephone company when my grandpa went overseas to fight; they both sacrificed the first several years of their marriage in order to defeat Hitler and ensure a safe, prosperous life for all Americans. And I'm so grateful that they taught me the values of their generation--a desire to work hard and achieve something, a sense of pride in a job well done, a commitment to the people that you love, and a desire for the simple good things in life, like a house that you build into a real home. But the one thing that I've never quite understood was this thing called patriotism.

Sure, you go to war to defeat bastards like Hitler. You protect your family and your country. And then you come home and go to college on the GI bill, buy a little house and fix it up, have a couple kids and a dog, take some camping trips. But why do you get teary-eyed when you put your hand on your heart and sing to the flag?

I think a lot of people from my generation feel disconnected from that nationalistic emotion. But can you really blame us, after the Monica Lewinsky scandal made our country pretty laughable for a while, and followed by the ridiculous and shameful antics of the government under the Bush administration? What ideals do we have left to connect to? We haven't had a JFK, or even an FDR, with his fireside chats to keep our hope alive in times of crisis. Most people my age haven't even been lucky enough to be close to grandparents like mine, who have described to me what life was like during the Depression, World War II, and the post-War Era. Most people haven't heard stories about eating string to survive, or seeing the piles of bodies in the concentration camps. So I'm sure it's even harder to imagine why you would sacrifice something for America--because to most Americans, our country is defined by Britany Spears and Tom Cruise, Monica Lewinsky and George W. Bush. If the greatest thing that has brought us all together in recent history is the tragic events of 9/11, we're certainly not going to learn as much about hard work and hope as our grandparents' generation. At least, not until we truly start to rebuild in such a way that American citizens remain connected with each other.

And that's where Obama comes in. No, he's not Jesus and we shouldn't place our hope in him. Especially for those of us who are Christians, we should remember that over and over in the Bible, God gave the Jews a king because they wanted a tangible leader--but all too often, it led them astray. They made their king into an object of worship and they stopped following God himself. And whether we are Christians or not, I don't think any of us really feel that Obama deserves our worship.

But I think it's okay to believe that we have a new hope because of what Obama represents and how he will govern. He's not perfect, he won't fix everything--but he doesn't have to. The press is saying that now the challenge for Obama is to live up to everyone's unreasonably high expectations, but my husband made a good point the other night. It's not so much that Obama has to live up to our expectations--it's that Obama has to get us to live up to his expectations. We need to learn what it's like to be real Americans again--and our impressive voter turnout is a good start. But there's still so much for us to do.

And I'm ready to sign up. Tell me to grow a Victory Garden, Obama. Start rationing margarine and panty hose if it will help. I'm not sure if you really want to give me an assembly-line job (I'm no Rosie; picture me trying to rivet). But I'll buy my share of war bonds or whatever it takes. In other words, give us our marching orders--it's okay to have hope that someone new (and much, much more competant) is in charge. It's okay because the hope that Obama inspires is really a hope in each other and ourselves.


Megan Cottrell said...

Hey - we don't actually know each other. I'm friends with Alex Hollingsworth, and I saw your note on his facebook page, so I thought I'd read your blog.

Just wanted to say that I wholeheartedly agree. It's strangely wonderful to be asked to sacrifice something for the greater good, and for the first time, I do identify with that victory garden/rosie the riveter form of patriotism.

I think we've had these years of crazy economic growth, where people have gone ridiculously into debt because, somehow, having stuff became the American Dream. And now that that dream has been popped, and we're all sitting on a mountain of credit card debt and failed stocks, we can see that the American Dream isn't flat screen TVs and a minivan. The dream is to live in a country where we have ideals, and we do the everyday work of talking those ideals through and working on them until they're a reality.

That's a dream, a country, that I'm willing to sacrifice for, and I've been waiting for a leader to activate that dream in my heart. Your husband is so right in what he said about living up to Obama's standards. No, he's not God, and we shouldn't put our hope in him. But on Tuesday, at his victory rally, I was given the greatest sense of hope in God - that God is active in the world, that he works through people, and that history isn't a revolving cycle of awful. It was the most amazing feeling I've ever felt.

This has become a blog in itself - sorry. I just wanted to raise my glass to you and say, "Let's toast to patriotic sacrifice!"

Marcella Mosley said...

I tried to leave a comment, but I'm not sure it worked. So I will just reiterate everything I said in a summary, lol.

I don't know you either--I also saw your comment on Alex Hollingsworth's Facebook page. I hope that's okay. I couldn't resist a blog about Obama.

I agree about the newly-invigorated sense of relief, and feeling like a change really is upon us. It feels nice to be able to trust the system a bit more lately, like people used to trust the government before Korea and Vietnam.

My Psych instructor had us watch Obama's president-elect speech the other day in class. It was my second time seeing it and, though I got emotional the first time, seeing my seventy-year old instructor actually crying out of the corner of my eye the second time around really lit a fire in me. I think at that moment to me it felt suddenly more real, and more generalizable. I suppose it's naive to assume that most Obama supporters were people in our age group--but actually seeing this man getting so passionate about watching Obama's speech really showed me that there are older people out there too who have just been waiting for another president like FDR or JFK (he did actually compare Obama to JFK, saying he hasn't felt this way about a candidate since Kennedy.)

Anyway, I just wanted to make sure I told you how wonderful your blog was and how much I agree as well!

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