Tuesday, October 27, 2009

O say can you say--our national anthem?

I was jogging past Wrigley Field at the end of this last season, (and thank goodness we’re not going to discuss that right now) a few minutes before the beginning of a game. A live performance of America the Beautiful was blasting over the stadium’s sound system. As I stopped for a drink of water at the fire station on Waveland, I noticed a lot of people were standing around, holding very still, looking at the flag with their hands over their hearts and hats in their hands.

Aww. I thought. How heartwarming. And to think I thought no one cared about our country anymore in this Me, me, me society with Goldman Sachs bonuses on the backs of the taxpayers and the I have my healthcare attitude so forget about you.

Then America the Beautiful ended and The Star Spangled Banner began.

“Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light…”

And everyone went back about their business.

“What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming …”

It was like watching a scene from a movie when the action scene that’s been frozen in time ends and everyone starts to move again. Ushers put their hats back on their heads, vendors started unloading boxes and fans continued walking into the stadium. I even received a smug smile from a guy as he put his baseball cap back on his head, like, Look at how patriotic I am, you infidel, who dared to drink water during America the Beautiful.

Huh? I mean, did I miss a memo? The last time I checked The Star Spangled Banner was the national anthem. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

Now, I stood there, frozen to my spot next to the drinking fountain, watching everyone moving past me. But then I just shook my head, turned west on Waveland Avenue and tried to continue my run.

“Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight…

I know there have been people who’ve argued America The Beautiful should be the national anthem, it being a little more celebratory and descriptive of our wonderful country and not the war anthem that The Star Spangle Banner is. But it’s not our national anthem. And thousands of men and women have fought for our country and the freedoms we take for granted. Men like my father.

“O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming.”

Something wouldn’t let me just continue my run. Maybe I channeled my inner Samuel Adams, I don’t know. So I stopped and turned around, faced the flag and put my hand over my heart. I stood there covered in sweat and took the stares of everyone who walked by me. Many of whom had been standing a few moments ago, during the wrong song, just as I was now.

“And the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air.”

Ever since 9/11, a particularly tragic day for me and my airline, I’ve never been able to get through our national anthem without choking up. Invariably, I finish singing it with tears in my eyes. I’m not sure exactly why, but it might be that I’m just so proud of how our country not only survived, but came back from those attacks.

“Gave proof through the night, that are flag was still there.”

Do you know more people know the words to the Brady Bunch theme song than The Star Spangled banner? So I did a little experiment and asked my kids, “What’s the national anthem for United States?” Even my ten-year old daughter, recently adopted from Russia, whose been in this country less than one year…well, she had no idea what I was talking about.

One of my sons knew the words, but thought the song was called, “Stars and Stripes Forever.” The other son knew the title, and the first verse of the song, but that was it. Hmm. Guess I have a little work to do on the home front in terms of instilling more patriotism into my own family before I go off, waxing all sanctimonious on everyone else. Maybe I’ll start with having everyone recite the Pledge of Allegiance before they’re allowed to dive into their Cheerios. Although, I think I might enjoy an unconstitutional moment of silence at the breakfast table more.

I wrote the words to the Star Spangled Banner here from memory, then did a cross check with Google. I’d switched “fight” and “night,” and made a few spelling errors, but on a scale of one to ten, I’d give myself an eight or nine.

“Oh say does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave…”

But has anyone else ever noticed, that the last line of our national anthem is a question?

“O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave?”