When they play the National Anthem, do you sit? stand? lock arms? kneel? put hand over heart? Do you sing? remain silent? Can you remember all the words? Can you reach all the notes? I’m pretty sure we’ve never given it so much consideration as a nation as we are doing right now. What does our flag and our National Anthem mean to us? to you?
Apparently, according to these Washington Post writers, it’s tradition. And tradition, these days, doesn’t go unaddressed, unchallenged or unopposed. So, if it’s so controversial, why not just begin with “Play ball!”? or at the ref’s whistle, the buzzer sounding or the starting gun?
Apart from the Olympics, when competitors gather, they are competing individually and/or perhaps for a team. Rarely do they suit up to represent their nation. And when they do — at least in the US of A — the only thing that’s similar about them is their uniform. Hair color, eye color (and sometimes eye multi-color — looking at you, Max Scherzer), skin color, body shape, size and distribution, tattoos, piercings, facial hair, facial features… I need not go on. We are a very un-uniform bunch. Even in uniform.
So, that’s got me thinking, as we stand before the game we’ve trained to compete in – as I stand before the game I’ve trained to compete in — whether it’s sports or academics, if it’s wall street main street, or putting on my game face for the rush hour traffic that’s sure to confront me — to what or whom do I pledge my allegiance? to what do we devote our effort? to whom do we commit ourselves in our day to day games?
Yes, for these professional athletes, this team, this game, this season is what they signed up for. This is their day job. This is how they earn their (very large) paycheck. I have no such obligation.
Or do I?
Scripture tells me that I was bought at a price. It wasn’t a bribe or a payoff or a paycheck, for that matter. It was a sacrificial offering, given without strings attached. Still, it was alot. It was everything. I was very expensive. God paid top dollar for me.
So, as I stand on the sidelines of my life, waiting to take the field for today’s game, what does my posture say about the allegiance I hold?
If you saw me there, would you know who I play for? Would I stand, sit or kneel? Would I remove my cap and put my hand over my heart? Would I look to my jersey or my colleagues to know whose team I was on? If the national anthem played, would I sing it?
It’s a good question: the game is about to start, who do you play for?
I don’t let anyone tell me what to do!
Is that so?
I ask God what is right to do.
I ask others what they would do.
I ask myself what is fair to do.
Then I decide what I should do.
And I do it.
This is my prayer for our country
and its new president elect.
Have you ever noticed how contagious gratitude can be?
I just had the opportunity, thanks to the William & Mary DC area Alumni organization, to welcome an Honor Flight coming into Reagan National Airport. On it were men and women who had served in WWII, Korea and Vietnam who were flown into Washington, DC so they could tour the monuments and memorials erected in their honor.
All I had to do was show up with a smile; posters and flags were optional. William & Mary colors were encouraged. Turns out there were a lot of us who thought this was a great opportunity. It seemed like every other person in the security line was there to meet the Honor Flight. Green and gold mingled with red, white and blue was everywhere.
Patriotic balloon bouquets greeted us at gate 38 as we gathered, and our numbers began to swell. Couples and singles, families with young children, girls and boys, teens and young adults, the middle-aged and older yet all swept into the mix. The chatter among us grew in connection and anticipation. “Their plane was early,” the gate crew told us, “so be ready.”
Suddenly, the brass of the Roger Whitworth Band brought us to our feet as they belted out the National Anthem. And not only us, the volunteer greeters forming the welcome tunnel, but all the people in neighboring gate areas as well. We all stood in honor of the anthem and saluted the flag in honor of our guests who would disembark any moment.
Then, all eyes to the jet way, a voice announces, “Here they come!”
And so they did. How delightful to see the first to emerge, as he stopped in his tracks to take in the scene. With a sincere bow, he waved and smiled as he was ushered along the runway like a New York City model. Cheers rang out, salutes given, whistles and thanks. Thunderous applause.
Then the next and the next. Each one receiving their welcome in their own way. Some were gregarious like the first. Some looked down as if embarrassed. Some in wheelchairs, some with walkers, some with canes. Some sprightly, shaking hands. Some jovial, smiling broadly.
Many, really most, were slow and deliberate. Each red-shirted veteran walked with a blue-shirted companion which, I learned later, had been assigned to accompany them in their day. Some companions pushed the wheelchairs, held hands, or walked behind to be sure of balance, but many wielded cell phones, video-recording the events making a lasting memory for their patrons.
From my place among the left flank of greeters, I was mesmerized by the glory on these faces. These men and women who had served their country proudly in ages past wore age and beauty, character and wonder, delight and surprise. Not many of them, I suppose, are wealthy executives, judging by their demeanor and their dress. They have just flown several hours in anticipation of visiting memorials where they will remember friends and comrades gone and are sure to recall experiences they may have long-ago chosen not to remember. Yet, I watch them in utter amazement. Some weep or choke back tears of joy. Most wave in acknowledgement; some applaud back to us!!
As they make the turn toward the concourse I realize that time has stopped in that corridor. Not a soul is moving in all of Terminal C! The crowd blocks the width of it and not a soul complains. Continuous applause rings out.
The ranks of our hundred or so volunteers are now buffeted by the per-chance traveler out of Washington DC on a Saturday morning. All those, too, are now gathered around gate 38 to see what the fuss is about. There is a small child hoisted up on Daddy’s shoulders to get a better look. Beyond her, a tv screen shows news that no one is watching.
Our attention is center stage until the last, a veteran of WWII, makes his rightful way along the imaginary red carpet and is wheeled through the throng on his way to the bus and the mall and the memorial.
Roger Whitworth and the boys in the band hold their last note and applause swells and then tapers. Over the intercom, an announcer closes the festivities: “One hundred and fifty reasons why we are free today.”
Hands numb from clapping, with smiles affixed, and bidding fond farewells to newfound friends, people turn to go about their days. What an amazing moment we have just witnessed. We came to welcome and honor men and women for their service, and they applauded back to us just for being here.
Gratitude does that.