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A Patriotic Epiphany



Although I hail from the Boston area, deemed by many to be a locus of patriotism, I have never considered myself a true patriot, despite my Yankee education and the best attempts of my teachers to imbue me with national fervor via cardboard turkeys and pilgrim hats.

I grew up in Marblehead, Mass., the alleged birthplace of the U.S. Navy and the home of the "Spirit of '76," the famous painting epitomizing the pluck and tenacity of the soldiers of the Revolutionary War. Marblehead is a small, historic town marked by sites at which both Lafeyette and Washington slept.

The bulk of the field trips my elementary school classes took were to Lexington and Concord to tour the early battlefields of the revolution. The first poem I learned to memorize as a child was Longfellow's "Midnight Ride of Paul Revere."

But later, among my peers, patriotism became distinctly unpopular. The standard of cool in my high school was based, in part, on scorn for typically American customs and mores.

We didn't have cheerleaders or a homecoming parade and dance. Our football team was laughable. And many of our liberal teachers preached an anti-establishment rhetoric acquired from their days as tie-dye T-shirted Oberlin students in the 1960s.

Even though I had grudgingly enjoyed those trips to Lexington and Concord back in my grammar school days, I dragged my feet along the Freedom Trail in Boston during a recent family excursion, resentful of the family patriotism that forced me to swelter outside in 90-degree weather.

We Xers are commonly told by he popular press that we are a disillusioned generation. While I generally believe this characterization to be inaccurate, it is true that I haven't noticed a real national spirit among my peers.

So I wasn't expecting a patriotic epiphany last summer when I went to watch the fireworks in New York City with a number of friends, my fellow students at the Jewish Theological Semmary's summer program.

The City of New York annually blocks off certain segments of its roads so that its jaded citizenry can turn out to view the fireworks display.

Armed with chips, salsa and soda, my friends and I disembarked at the 42nd Street station and joined the throng of people fighting their way to the observation point for the fireworks.

After being shepherded up the exit ramp of the FDR Parkway by mounted police, I settled with my friends on a blanket in the middle of the blocked-off highway.

We arrived early, so we had plenty of room to stretch out our legs on the road.

But then a great rush of onlookers forced us to stand. Packed onto the highway, we waited impatiently for the show to begin.

The fireworks did not begin at the scheduled time. To combat boredom, one member of my group suggested that we sing the national anthem. Amused, we all agreed.

So, we started to sing.

And that was when a minor modern American miracle happened. That crowd of overheated and frustrated New Yorkers began to sing with us.

Every person lined up on that highway within earshot--little children who had just been crying, their harassed parents, young teenagers, drunks swigging wine from brown paper bags--they all began to sing with us.

There was something quite moving about this strangely-united crowd singing the anthem. It was the first time I had sung the "Star Spangled Banner" in public since the last time I attended a Red Sox game six years before (my patriotism and Boston team spirit seem to have dissapated at approximately the same time).

Then, just as we reached the final bars of the anthem, "Oh, say does that star spangled banner yet wave...," a spray of dazzling white light shot up from near the pier.

It almost seemed as if we, by our combined effort, had brought forth that display.

We were all touched in that crowd, I think, by the way we had been momentarily brought together by the anthem and our usually-concealed love and pride for our nation.

Maybe patriotism isn't so uncool after all.

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