Stepping Back

earth-from-space-westernI possess a rather odd and illogical dread of odd numbered years. I suppose that my superstition began because almost consistently the most significant people in my life have died in a year marked by an odd number, or some especially dramatic and tragic event has taken place in times ending with a 1, 3, 5, 7 or 9. I quietly take a deep breath every other New Year’s Day and then heave a sigh of relief when we return to a reckoning in which an even number denotes the passage of time. I tend to laugh at my silliness and don’t really believe that there is some kind of curse on years not evenly divisible by two, but it’s a difficult  habit to kick when a coincidence of bad karma occurs again and again just as I feared that it might. God knows that this year of 2017 has been rather strange and difficult for virtually everyone, but there is in fact a silver lining that is almost always hidden in even the most trying times.

We have dozens and dozens of platitudes about our human resiliency and the notion that the hardest moments in our lives often bring out the best in us and the people around us. Loss and trauma are no small things and their after effects often linger for decades, but those also tend to be the very instances when the overwhelming goodness of humans becomes the most evident. It is when we feel as though we are in our lowest valleys of despair that we learn that we are not alone, for heroes appear of whom we were often not even aware.

I just finished Mitch Albom’s novel The Five People You Meet in Heaven. I had never before read it because I was miffed that Mr. Albom had appeared to have created a best selling story that was similar to an idea that I had. I had to set my pettiness aside because two of my grandsons are reading the tale as one of the assignments for their English class. I sometimes help them to demystify the intricacies of literature and so I needed to be familiar with this particular book. I found that the theme and the writing style were far more interesting and less maudlin than I had supposed. The thread of the story reminded me that life takes so many unexpected turns that may seem negative at the time, but often contribute to our betterment without our even realizing it. It is when we are most challenged that we witness the true courage of the human spirit.

Nobody who is suffering really wants to hear that what they are enduring is God’s will or that what doesn’t kill them makes them stronger. In the midst of tragedy we are mostly overwhelmed and struggling just to make it from one day to the next. Sometimes it feels as though our entire lifetimes are riddled with challenges that keep us perennially weary. Like Eddie, the protagonist of The Five People You Meet in Heaven we may even feel as though we are dying a slow death. We fail to see what is really happening in our lives. We are so fixated on hurt and betrayals and losses that we never realize the thousands of ordinary moments when people are loving and sacrificing for us. We are driven to react more by the ugliness that we see than the goodness that is far more overwhelming. We become locked in a struggle to unravel the old conundrum of deciding whether the glass is half full or half empty.

As an educator I often encountered problems that were so trying that I began to question my abilities. I would stew over my powerlessness to reach the hearts and minds of everyone of my students. I tended to focus on the most terrible incidents of my daily routines in the classroom rather than recalling that I had done well more times than I had failed. Like most humans I was unforgiving of myself in my quest for a perfection that is in fact nonexistent. We innately know that none of us will get through life without enduring or even creating total mess ups now and again, and yet we upbraid ourselves for our very humanity. It takes a great deal of living and self reflection to ultimately learn how to be kind not only to ourselves but to our fellow men and women as well. The wisest among us are those who take the hard knocks without beating themselves just for being normal.

It has almost become a blood sport to criticize people and actions that we do not fully understand. We sometimes hide our own insecurities in a cloak of smugness, pretending to be more righteous than we really are. The best among us are less likely to do that, and we often secretly long to be more like them. We all know someone who seems to maintain an almost angelic optimism and an ability to keep a cool head when everyone else is melting down. If we take the time to learn more about such individuals we generally find that they have worked hard to be self aware and nonjudgemental. They actually choose to take life’s blows in stride. Theirs is a very conscious effort to stay calm and carry on even when the disappointments that they face threaten to push them into the abyss. They allow themselves to be fully human and to find the good that is always present even when it is unseen.  Nobody ever escapes the trials of life. There is no Garden of Eden anywhere, but there are ways to step back just enough to get a wider view of what is happening and to witness the big picture of the world around us. When we are able to do that we almost always see that we are surrounded by more love than hate, more goodness than evil, more hope than despair.

In an era when we feel as though the very earth is wobbling it is especially confusing. We worry that mankind has gone mad, and there is certainly evidence that a significant proportion of our species is behaving badly. Still we have to remind ourselves that the sun is still rising and providing a new day to set ourselves straight. We have to inhale and truly see the brave souls who wade through high water to rescue the stranded, the courageous who run toward the bullets to aid the wounded, the friends and strangers who surprise us with their largesse. We are essentially a human race with the same blood tracing through our veins, the same desires for happiness, the same generous spirits. We cannot allow the ugliness to overtake the beauty of who we are as people. We shouldn’t have to go to heaven to learn the important lesson that each of us has significance in the flow of history and that our collective impact on life is far more dramatic than we might ever have imagined.

Perhaps if we all were to become more self aware and more conscious of all of the people around us we might find more hope even in odd numbered years or stressful times. We would gain a more realistic perspective of what is really happening in the long run. We would realize that it is incredibly rare for anyone to be always bad or always good. We might begin to enjoy more moments of clarity and insight if we learned first to look for the true meaning of what it means to be human. We might even find that those platitudes that sometimes irritate us exist because there are grains of truth and wisdom to be found in them. Mostly we will find the peace we seek when we take more time to number our blessings big and small.

I always think of how confused and unpleasant the world may appear to be from the vantage point of being in the middle a crowd on a noisy street. If we instead travel into the vastness and solitude of outer space we look down on a blue planet that is stunning in its beauty. It is as though in seeing the entirety of the earth we are able to finally understand how remarkable it truly is. That is what we must also do in assessing both ourselves and our fellow travelers in his journey between birth and death. It is a breathtaking experience to see all of the events of our lives put together forming a whole. Look carefully and you will see how truly beautiful we are.

Advertisements

Arming for the Good

CkgWhiteBackPeopleThere were no guns in the home where I grew up. My mom was a widow and had never felt particularly comfortable around weapons of any kind and so I never really thought much about owning a pistol or a rifle. I did, however, have a number of relatives who were rather casual about having and using guns. A bachelor uncle who lived with my maternal grandmother kept a loaded pistol on his dresser that fascinated me and all of the cousins, but we had been schooled in respect for personal property and so we never thought to even run our fingers over the the object that was a fixture in our uncle’s room along with matchbooks, cigarettes and loose change. Several other uncles were hunters who braved cold damp weather each year and enjoyed telling stories of their rifles and their adventures. My cousins who were their children eventually learned how to use firearms safely and tended to take it for granted that everyone felt as comfortable around them as they did. I suspect that I was most amazed in knowing that my paternal grandmother often hunted in the hills behind her farm. We were often treated to wild animal delicacies that she had bagged and then turned into gourmet fare. While my brothers enjoyed the tastes of wild game I was unable to erase the images of the animals from my mind, and so I was never able to bring myself to even taste those dishes. When my brothers and I were grown only one among us became an avid hunter in the tradition of so many of our relatives. I never developed a comfort around guns, not even when I married and learned that my spouse was as relaxed with the idea of owning arms as most of my kin had been. He had grown up around men who regularly hunted, but he actually disliked that sport and only enjoyed testing his weaponry on paper targets rather than living creatures. We installed a safe to lock his armaments away and forged a separate peace in terms of having them inside our home.

What I know is that every single person in my family always handled their guns with respect for their power. They understood and followed the rules of safety so well that I never felt threatened by the fact that they were hidden somewhere in their houses. I never had any fear of them being used in an evil fashion. My uncles and grandmother and cousins and husband were responsible in the way in which they handled the ownership of weapons, and so I took it for granted that I would be safe not because they would protect me with their arms, but because they had been well trained in the proper use and storage of them.

A great debate is raging in our country over whether or not ordinary citizens should even own guns or if there should at the very least be restrictions on the numbers and types of firearms that should be available. It’s an emotional topic with good and bad arguments on both sides. It is true that millions of people own guns and never even have the thought of harming another human with their weaponry. They are good individuals who take their duties seriously and can’t understand why they should surrender their guns simply because now and again some murderous and evil scumbag wreaks havoc on society using firearms. Even with the alarming rate of gun violence they argue that it is still a minuscule portion of society that misuses weapons in such ways. They further contend that if someone is intent on harming others they will find a manner in which to do so whether the laws are in their way or not. I suspect that there is some merit in their contentions, but I’ve never quite been converted to felling absolutely comfortable about the laxity of our gun laws, and in many regards I am bothered by the sheer numbers of them and the fascination of them by so many whom I do not trust as much as my relations.

As I attempt to become thoroughly familiar with our nation’s gun laws I see problems that create the potential for grave abuses and I can’t help but wonder why responsible gun owners are so against at least closing the most glaring loopholes. In the most recent carnage caused by a killer almost sixty humans were mowed down in a nine minute time frame. The first thoughts were that the mass murderer had used an automatic weapon because the shots were obviously fired more quickly than possible with a semi-automatic weapon. It was confusing because automatic weapons have been illegal since 1986, but we soon learned that there are ways to get around that dictate, and it seems that the evil doer had taken advantage of them. It seems that mechanisms known as bump stocks are legal and often used with semi-automatic guns to simulate the same effects as an automatic gun. What I want to know is why in the name of logic would our lawmakers allow such an item to even exist when the intent of the 1986 legislation was to keep automatic weapons out of the hands of ordinary citizens? The shocking truth of this matter is absurd.

We also have other glaring omissions that pro gun supporters continue to endorse even though they make no sense whatsoever. Most gun show dealers are heavily regulated and require customers to register for permits, but if someone attends one of those events and walks into the parking lot where a private citizen is selling arms from the trunk of his car the reach of the law breaks down. We also have no idea whatsoever who owns what and how many. We take a numerical counting of how much money people make, how many people live inside homes, what cars they drive and so on, but we are completely lax when it comes to an accounting of firearms. Some of the same advocates of voter ID cards contend that owning firearms should be a private thing that is none of the government’s business, and so once a citizen has passed muster to purchase a gun the record is eventually destroyed.

The most popular guns in the country are semi-automatic firearms that were illegal until the legislation outlawing them lapsed. They may be fun to shoot, but they are hardly necessary in our society, especially in light of the most recent information about how easily they are adapted to be more like automatic weaponry. I frankly can’t understand why anyone would ever need such a thing.

The most frequently expressed fear of gun owners is that if we tighten the laws here and there it will be just a matter of time until the government decides to confiscate all firearms. They further contend that criminals will always find a way to find weapons and that anyone intent on evil will be successful regardless of any measures we may take. They may be right, but I see no harm in taking a few steps to clean up the wild west feel of our laxity when it comes to managing the reasonable ownership of guns in this country. I am quite frankly appalled by the spread of open carry laws that are slowly but surely bringing more and more firearms even onto places like college campuses. The idea that we should just throw up our hands and surrender because nothing will work anyway is an absurdity. We have speed limits even though some people ignore them. We are required to pass a test before driving a car even though some people skip that step and just jump behind the wheel. There are rules of all sorts that are broken but we don’t toss them out. We have ten commandments from God that people continually sin against, but we still value those basic laws. So why can’t we at least attempt to slow down the manufacture and purchase of implements that are so dangerous?

I think that we need to do something to send a message to our society that we value human life so much that we are all willing to work together for a compromise that cleans up the gooey mess that gun legislation or lack of it has created. We don’t have to take away arms from the ordinary guy who means no harm, nor should we neglect to tighten up our rules just because we don’t believe that they will make a difference. There is a middle pathway that will begin the process of healing. I hear so many advocating prayer and saying that we need to unify. Why not use this moment as the time in history when we chose to become brothers and sisters once again? This is an opportunity to arm ourselves with a spirit of brotherly love. U fail to see how that is bad.

A No Gladiator Zone

gladiators-12I remember a time when I was in the eighth grade and my entire class was called together because the teachers and the principal of the school were displeased with our general behavior. I was honestly a very good girl, a student who always wanted to be respectful, obedient and pleasing to my elders. I did not understand why I was being subjected to what amounted to a harangue about how bad me and my peers were. About five minutes into the all encompassing lecture I stopped listening. The tongue lashing continued for quite some time but I was not interested in hearing any of it because I did not believe that it applied to me. Furthermore I left that assembly feeling intensely angry over the insults that had been hurled at me and my classmates, and I felt more attached to my fellow students than ever including those whom I knew had created the furor with their less than sterling actions. Lumping an entire group into one basket of stereotyping does that. It creates unified tribes that might otherwise not exist.

We humans are funny like that. We don’t like the idea of being misunderstood and viewed negatively by anyone who makes sweeping assumptions about us. When those things happen we get as angry as I did when the teachers subjected me to a lecture that I knew was unfair. Such situations all too often push people to react negatively or emotionally and to ally themselves with groups in which they might otherwise have had no interest. Thus it is with the political climate in the United States today. We can’t get anything done because we are too busy thoughtlessly bashing one another. Far too many of people are no longer interested in the least in listening to what the other side might have to say, because they feel that they have been insulted one time too many. Thus we find ourselves deadlocked, divided to the point of hatefulness. The situation is so bad that I sometimes find myself wondering if we will ever again be able to work together for the common good of our nation. Things look very bleak as of now, and those who lead us are not helping with the matter. No side is innocent in this war of words and ideas that more closely resembles the battle between the Hatfields and McCoys than rational political discourse. Until the yelling, accusatory and self righteous behaviors cease or at least subside we are in deep trouble.

At first glance we appear to have a vast gulf of disagreement between Republicans and Democrats, but that is an over simplification of the problem that contributes to much of the rancor. Within the Republican party there are multiple layers of thinking that range from the far right to stances that are much more liberal. The Democrats also have their differences, and battles for the heart of the party ensue between those on the far left and those who trend more toward the middle of the road. Unfortunately there is a tendency to simplify reality by assuming that there is one set of identical Republicans and one set of matching Democrats. So we find far too many people posing arguments that are filled with fixed images about each of the parties.

So how does this look in the real world? Well, if someone is thought to be a Republican they may be subject to taunts from progressives that classify them as rednecks, bigots, mean spirited, ignorant, racist, homophobic, religious zealots, gun toters, abominable, haters and so on. The people who so easily toss around these highly charged labels then wonder why individuals who tend to be more conservative are often unwilling to listen to them. It is actually human nature that they would be defensive, and ready to pick a fight at the first utterance of such words.

On the other side we have Democrats who are accused of being snowflakes, enablers, communists, overly sensitive, emotional, liars, unpatriotic, lazy, rude, too politically correct, overly liberal, crooks, and other pejoratives too inflammatory to print. Again, why would someone who has had to endure such wrath be the slightest bit interested in hearing what the other side has to say? Thus we reach the present state of impasse on so many issues that are important to the American people. With the “my way or the highway” attitude that is so persistent there is little chance that anything will be resolved. Sadly there are large numbers of people who demand all or nothing. Thus we are expected to join one side or another or be totally ostracized by almost everyone.

We have a health insurance system that is a mess. We know for a fact that the Affordable Care Act is riddled with problems, but there are solutions if only all interested parties were willing to sit at a bargaining table and consider the issues one by one. Our immigration system is broken and desperately needs fixing but the combatants on each extreme have planted their flags in the ground and seem unwilling to consider alternatives. We are expected to either cheer for a wall or open the borders without exceptions, when there are possibilities in the middle. We are concerned with gun violence in this country, but again little changes because neither side is willing to budge even a tiny bit. Instead we rant and rave and shout out slogans and soundbites. We either want to leave the country or desire to push out people who disagree. We are playing a zero sum game when what we need is a plan for win/win. In truth we are caught in the web of power grabs, victims of propaganda all the way around. We seem to be self righteously convinced that we are right and everyone else is wrong. We close our minds to any discussions that deviate from our own points of view and defend our stances with insults that only drive the other side farther and farther away.

It should be a given that we are all concerned with gun violence in our country. We all feel emotional about the unnecessary deaths of so many innocents. We all want the same thing which is to curb the trend of mass murder that only seems to grow. Our only differences are in how we think it is best to solve the problem. We never quite get started with any positive solutions because we would rather continue at a stalemate than consider the possibility that we might need a combination of the various ideas woven together by compromise. God forbid that we would actually have constructive bipartisan discussions. Those who even think of doing such things these days are deemed to be weak, traitors to some nebulous cause. We would rather do nothing than incrementally move toward agreement.

I hear good ideas from many points of view but they are being drowned out by the clatter of insults. I’ve been regularly attacked by both conservatives and liberals simply because I am willing to consider alternative solutions. I’ve been called wishy washy and naive for believing that we need to cool down long enough to just listen without thinking of what arguments we are going to present as soon as the other person is finished speaking. I’ve been on the receiving end of hateful retorts on many occasions when I have suggested gathering facts and then considering how they impact particular problems. I’d love to be able to brainstorm, but instead I constantly hear people voicing slogans rather than practical ideas for resolving our conflicts.

Ironically and perhaps thankfully I have heard some of the best analyses of our national problems from the young. They have not yet calcified their thinking. They are often far more open than their elders. They are willing to explore new possibilities. It gives me hope when I hear them very logically and accurately assessing the political landscape, but I’d hate to think that we will have to wait for them to become the leaders of the future for things to change.

I suspect that there are far more people who think like me than I have found of late. The squeaky wheels are getting the grease for now, but one day perhaps those of us who have grown weary of the gladiator fights will finally rise up and take the reigns of responsibility. I long for the day when we are once again willing to work together. We have to be a team and family, for if we aren’t our problems will only grow as will our rancor at one another. That would be a terrible shame because it was long ago predicted that the very nature of democracy itself would ultimately destroy it. In other words there have always been those who believe that mankind is not capable of being fully unselfish and willing to compromise to insure equality and justice for all. I pray that the naysayers are wrong. Let’s begin to create a no gladiator zone for resolving our differences. We have too much to lose to keep fighting.

For the Love

mlk8We hear a great deal about patriotism these days but what is it really? Is it only about displaying outward signs of allegiance to this great nation of ours, or is it something deeper, more visceral? I happen to believe that it is all about loving the United States of America so much that one is always concerned about it’s welfare. Sometimes that means having to do difficult things to ensure that democracy remains robust and available for each of us. That might mean serving in the military to protect freedoms, one of the noblest sacrifices that a citizen may make. It may also mean that an individual has to take a stand for what is right and just that is uncomfortable and maybe even misunderstood. Both of these behaviors are necessary at times in order for our country to sustain the principles upon which it was founded, and those which needed to be part of the compact made for the people of this land but were unfortunately omitted from the original declaration of rights. It is not only those who sing anthems and place their hands on their hearts who demonstrate patriotism, but also those who urge us to consider problems that need to be addressed to create an ever more perfect union.

I love this country in a very emotional way. I am filled with gratitude that I may call this glorious land my home, but I am not so prideful to believe that we are without our problems. We all know that there are certain difficulties that have plagued us from the very beginnings of our most remarkable government. It surely must give us pause to realize that we began this great democratic journey with slavery legitimized by law. How can we read the documents that counted enslaved people as two thirds of a person without feeling sorrow? Certainly we eventually had the moral courage to do what was right, but it should never have taken as long as it did. It is the main reason that I sob each time I stand inside the Lincoln Memorial and think upon the courage and patriotism that Abraham Lincoln possessed even to the point of being murdered for his beliefs. Thank God that he so loved this country that he was willing to endure great sorrow and the slings and arrows of criticism to finally set it on the right course. That was patriotism at its very best.

Most of our black neighbors are the descendants of slaves, people who came to this country in chains. A visit to an historic plantation is a painful experience. Walking through the splendor of the antebellum homes of slave owners and then seeing the horrific conditions in which their slaves lived is humbling and causes me to experience great sorrow. It doesn’t take much imagination upon seeing the implements by which the slaves were kept in line to realize how horrible their existence was. It is a blot on our history which we will only eliminate when we are all willing to accept that what happened to those who were treated as property was very wrong.

If we had simply moved forward once slavery was outlawed perhaps we would now be living as brothers and sisters. Instead we spent another hundred years segregating the blacks from our lives. I vividly remember what that looked like and it was ugly. Blacks lived in neighborhoods far from the rest of us. Their children were often housed in inferior schools, although there were incredible efforts made by their own people to overcome all of the educational handicaps that were thrown at them that even included barring black children from libraries. I remember the signs that kept our black neighbors from using our water fountains or bathrooms. We so cavalierly embarrassed our fellow citizens again and again. Sometimes there were even those who terrorized them with fiery crosses. I shudder when I think of a symbol of Jesus Himself being used in such a hateful way.

I could go on and on about what I witnessed, inhumane treatment that seemed unfair even to the child that I was. It was with great elation that I saw heroes like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. challenge our country to correct the inequalities that were legitimized with laws that were unjust. Without violence he led a movement that would eventually overturn many of the inequities, but not until he and his cause had endured great strife and violence. He is to this very day another of my heroes, equal in stature to Abraham Lincoln. Dr. King is in my mind one of the great patriots of American history who raised our consciousness and challenged us make our country a better place.

Many seem to believe that the equitable evolution of the United States of America is finished. Sadly there is still work to be done, questions to be considered. As long as we still have situations in which certain classes of people are considered less eligible for our God given rights and freedoms, we must continue to insist that we have the moral fortitude to continue the discussions and take the needed measures to perfect our system of government. Those who wish to make America better are the true patriots, and it up to all of us to acknowledge rather than condemn their efforts.

We tend to view violence and riots as nonproductive ways of fighting for rights. We don’t really listen to people who would burn and destroy. It somehow seems counter to their arguments for justice. So we should be open to hearing the grievances of those who choose more peaceful means of highlighting their causes. What are people to do when we reject both methods? What are they to think? How frustrated they must be when we turn out backs without attempting to understand their frustrations. Thus it is with our current situation. Our history with the people whose ancestors we treated with so much disrespect are merely asking that we try harder to show them that we no longer view them as somehow being lesser citizens than we are. We insult them when we only react to their pleas with anger or when we ignore them altogether and wrap ourselves in our flags of patriotism as if we are somehow better Americans. One who truly loves this country would want to pause long enough to consider why people would subject themselves to our ire. If things felt okay and wonderful to them surely they would not risk so much to stand up for what they believe to be right and just. Why then can we not at least take the time to listen and dialogue rather than indicting them and accusing them of being unAmerican? Isn’t that a dramatic step backward? Can’t we see the irony in suggesting that they go away if they don’t like what is happening to them?

My heart is filled with nothing but love and appreciation for this country, but I also understand that it is not yet perfect and maybe never will be, but I am enough of a patriot to want it to be. I truly believe the the greatest patriots that this nation has known have been those who stood for something so important and so real that they were literally willing to make every imaginable sacrifice for the good of their fellow citizens. I stand with Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and the men and women who fight for all of our freedoms in foreign lands. I also stand with those who have an important message for us to really hear. I will still get goosebumps when I hear the national anthem. I will feel a sense of relief when I return to my country from foreign soul. I will pledge my allegiance with all of my heart, but I will never turn my back on anyone who simply wants to improve this great land. Like a parent who guides a child and builds his/her character, so too are those who alert us to the things that we are doing imperfectly the true patriots among us. 

 

In the Course of Human Events

bm

Back when I was teaching in South Houston I had unusually large numbers of students who were Seventh Day Adventists. They were particularly sweet, hardworking and respectful pupils who made my job so much easier. I always appreciated that their parents had taught them values that included being thoughtful and compliant with regard to my classroom rules and routines. Mixed in with them were a number of hardcore gang members who seemed ready by their very natures to challenge me and thus divert my time and attention from the task of conveying and facilitating knowledge to all of my young charges. The gang members stood out with their swagger and their stealth ways of showing their allegiances. The children devoted to their particular religious tenets made themselves known in another way that we teachers accepted not as defiance but as their right with regard to certain features of the Bill of Rights. Namely, they sat quietly in their seats each morning while the rest of us stood to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

It was a given that their unobtrusive gesture of belief was something to be respected and perhaps even admired, and so nobody ever questioned their right or even their intent. There were no discussions, nor judgements. Instead we simply did our thing each morning and they did theirs. For me there was something quite beautiful about the freedom of it all, and the fact that we honored their freedom without making a big deal out of it. None of those kids had to have any form of proof of their religious belief on file. They might just as well have simply been frauds who took advantage of our largesse. We understood that it was really none of our business to question their views one way or another. It simply was what it was and it all passed quickly and without incident every single morning.

Over time I worked in many different schools and there was always the accepted actuality that we would not force our own religious or political or social beliefs on our students. We were to be respectful of individual thinking one way or another, and for the most part all of my colleagues defended the freedoms of the students, mostly without fanfare or drawing embarrassing attention to students who required special dispensations. We understood the importance of being fair and impartial.

Now a huge brouhaha has been dusted up over some rather inappropriate comments from the President of the United States of all people regarding players in the NFL and other sports who choose to take a knee rather than stand for the National Anthem. It is unfortunate that our leader appears to have neglected to thoroughly read and understand the full contents of the Bill of Rights, for it is rather clear that those athletes have as much right to make a political point by refusing to stand as my students did. The President may not agree with them or even like what they are doing, but to call them “sons of bitches” and suggest that they be fired is way out of line, and all Americans should call him out for doing so, regardless of their feelings about the players’ methods or intent. The fact is that the athletes have a right as Americans to express their discontent, and instead of mocking them our leaders should be proud that the Constitution with its Bill of Rights is still working as it was intended to do.

Of course the owners of the teams also retain the ability to employ whomever they wish. Players are regularly sent packing for a host of reasons, most of which deal with their abilities to perform their duties well. In truth if one of the owners wished to require their employees to stand during the opening ceremonies of each game he/she would be well within the guidelines of employment, but they need not respond to the whims of the President in making such determinations. It was wrong of President Trump to intimidate the owners with his remarks and his tweets which were undoubtedly made to garner political capital.

The question of how best to define patriotism has been argued since the very beginnings of the United States of America. There are those whose ideas are more narrow and confining. They insist that we will work best as a republic if we all agree to always honor our country and our leaders. Others feel that what is best about America is the ability to voice concerns without retribution. They see symbolic resistance as the highest form of patriotism, for it harks back to the Founding Father’s insistence that no authoritarian government has the right to tread on the rights of the individual. Our country began with revolution against a tyrannical government. The writers of the Constitution were determined to make certain that no one individual or group would have the power to insist that we think in lockstep. In this regard President Trump has overstepped his bounds. While he too has the right to disagree with the athletes who are mounting a protest, he surely is wrong when he disparages them for exercising their rights as citizens. Furthermore, his bullying tactics with regard to the team owners are both embarrassing and questionable. He would do well to retake a Civics course before mouthing off so publicly. He might also consider reacting the way we did when I was teaching whenever we encountered individuals whose beliefs were different from ours. We always understood that it was their right to question conventional thinking, and that our duty was to provide them with a safe space for doing so.

We will each react a bit differently to the protests among our professional athletes. The Constitution provides us with the protections to do so. We may turn off the games if we feel strongly enough. We may join them in taking a knee. We may even just choose to quietly ignore the whole incident and celebrate the wondrous idea that we have the power to make our own choices regarding such things in this country. It does not defile our national honor whenever any citizen exercises his or her rights. In fact it dramatically demonstrates that we are a truly free people.

Our military has fought for liberty from the time that those first shots were fired at Lexington and Concorde. We haven’t always created a perfect form of government, but we have worked hard to make it better. We haven’t always chosen the right sides, but we have somehow been able to recover from our mistakes and improve our ways of doing things. We will never reach the goals of a more perfect union if we are unwilling to pause now and again to question the way we do things and to discuss methods for being certain that every man, woman and child has a voice and a sense of security.

Our Founding Fathers were radicals in the world in which they lived. Their ideas were audacious for the time. I suspect that if they were around to comment they would insist that the players be allowed to have their moment to shed a light on issues that worry them. They would also encourage President Trump to be less domineering and pejorative, and far more willing to stop his tirades long enough to find out why these men feel so strongly about their concerns that they are willing to endure the wrath of their fans and the leader of the nation. It’s time for all Americans to insist that our president work for the good of all, not just the few that form his base of voters. That is what our founders intended, and that is the way it should work.

Frankly I am weary and I know that most of my fellow Americans are as well. I agree with Senator John McCain that it is well past time to dispense with all of the quibbling and attempt to remember what this country is supposed to be about. It’s a watershed moment in which we must set aside our hatefulness and invective and begin again to consider the diversity of needs that we have. Most of all it should be the duty of all to protect our First Amendment rights regardless of our own beliefs, for they are far more important than pledges or anthems or routines. Sometimes in the course of human events it becomes necessary to speak out.