"Teacher in a Strange Land"
By Nancy Flanagan
July 5, 2018
I played my flute in a patriotic-themed outdoor concert last night with the Northport Community Band--as cooling breezes blew across Grand Traverse Bay and firecrackers popped in the distance.
There were at least 400 people seated in lawn chairs, clapping along to You're a Grand Old Flag,The National Emblem and The Stars and Stripes Forever. We played a service medley, as we always do, asking veterans to stand when the tune representing their branch of the service was played.
This is standard for our summer concerts--and I usually think of this as hokey, the musical equivalent of a 'Support Our Troops!' bumper sticker.
But last night, instead of zoning out during the rests, I watched the crowd--the old men struggling to get to their feet or simply waving from their wheelchairs as the crowd clapped and cheered for them. And I thought of all the major sacrifices--not just lives of young, innocent men and women, determined to serve their country, but the endless struggles for civil rights and equity and justice.
I reflected on the striving, loss and pain incurred in the ongoing process of trying to make this nation a true democracy (or republic--take your choice).
The people who tartly point out that we have never been a just and fair nation are correct. But I don't remember a Fourth of July where I've felt more discouraged about the home of the brave, land of the not-really free.
I also still feel a deep commitment, an obligation, to the relevant principles, even as they're chipped away and made meaningless: Liberty. Opportunity. Equity. Justice. Peace. Persistence.
I found myself, unexpectedly, in tears last night. So much has been lost, damaged, soiled or destroyed. Evil is rising. You can't deny it. Just watch the news.
Were all the sacrifices in vain--going all the way back to the ragtag Colonial armies, losing their lives over taxation and the conviction that this was their land, that they were entitled, by their Creator, to defend their homesteads and the fruits of their labor? What about the terrible price paid to end the scourge of slavery? To build and invest in becoming a world-class power?
All the people who steadfastly developed the American dream--is it just the way of the world that their sacrifices were meaningless in the face of greed and corruption?
The etymological root of the word sacrifice is to 'make sacred.' I think I was experiencing the sacred last night, watching the 90-something Navy man sing 'Anchors Aweigh' in the front row--and the grandfathers who served in Vietnam shyly nod to each other across the crowd.
I also thought about where and how those men and women were educated. Where did they absorb the idea that citizenship is both blessing and duty? Who taught them to read and calculate, who nurtured their talents and their dreams?
The county where I live--one of the most beautiful spots in the nation, according to Good Morning, America--was originally settled by Native Americans, who still have a large and active presence here, and whose children attend public schools. The abundant fresh waters that drew them here centuries ago are now threatened by a crumbling oil pipeline that lies under a major shipping lane. Should a public education include factual information about protecting our greatest environmental asset? Is that not also a sacred American principle?
In this holiday week, I am choosing to still believe in the things that genuinely have made America great, those blessings of liberty that include a free, high-quality, fully public education for every child.