Patriot Games

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The Fourth of July holiday has come and gone. All that’s left are flags still flapping in the breeze, the detritus of fireworks on summer lawns, and leftover hotdogs, hamburgers and beer in the fridge. The sounds of high school bands as they marched proudly in parades down main streets of American towns are a distant echo in our ears.

I have been left pondering the idea of patriotism. The symbols and anthems of American pride can bring tears to my eyes. The sight of veterans marching or waving from parade floats gives me a sense of gratitude for my freedom and their sacrifice. Yet the celebrations of Independence Day are just a tiny part of what it means to be a patriot.

During the 2008 presidential election, there was a rumor circulating that then-Senator Barack Obama refused to wear a flag pin on his lapel. Although the rumor was untrue, I remember thinking, So what? Does wearing a flag pin make someone patriotic? What about waving the flag or singing “The Star Spangled Banner”? We equate the symbolism with the reality at our own peril.

A perfect example of the disconnect between these gestures and reality is in the treatment our active duty soldiers and veterans have received over the years. During the Iraq War, bumper stickers with the slogan “Support Our Troops” started appearing on vehicles across the country.  Yet at the same time, reports came out that the armed forces were given insufficient armor and outdated equipment with which to go into battle.  Similarly, since at least the Vietnam War, veterans’ medical, financial and psychological needs have been underserved. I don’t know about you, but I would rather have adequate protection in battle and appropriate medical attention when needed than all the flag-waving, yellow ribbons and bumper stickers in the country.

I have also noticed that Americans who voice any criticism of our country are viewed as traitors. A Facebook friend posted an article declaring that such songs as “Born in the U.S.A.” by Bruce Springsteen and “Pink Houses” by John Mellencamp are anti-American because they are critical of the Vietnam War and of poverty and racism in the United States. Yet dissent is one of our most cherished rights as Americans. Only by looking at ourselves with a critical eye can we make our country better.

I am not advocating disrespect. I would never endorse flag-burning or using expletives to refer to the President of the United States – even though these actions are protected by the First Amendment. But true patriotism means caring about Americans and trying to make life better for everyone in our cherished republic. 

Actions speak louder than words and symbols, and it is our actions by which we should be judged. For me this means keeping myself informed, voting for public officials, and advocating for freedom and justice. Flag waving optional.

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Procr&*!tination

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When I was teaching high school English, I used the word “procrastinate” in the classroom, and one of my students gasped, “That sounds like a dirty word!”

“It is,” I assured him.

Procrastination has been a bad habit of humans since Neanderthals were saying, “I’ll go hunting and gathering later.” As a matter of fact, I started writing this post about a month ago – but I put it off. That’s pretty low, procrastinating on an article about procrastination. What can I say? Even the indomitable Scarlett O’Hara was always declaring, “I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

Why do I stall around instead of acting? I only procrastinate when I find the task difficult, distasteful, or frightening. For instance, I have a hard time dragging myself out of bed in the morning. But once up, I make a beeline to the coffeemaker and brew a pot. Similarly, if one of my kids were to ask me to read him or her a book, I would jump to the task. But when asked to fix them a meal, I dawdle. Checking email or Facebook? I’m on it! Clean the bathroom? Maybe later.

Nowhere has my tendency to procrastinate been worse than in the area of writing. For years I entertained fantasies about publishing a novel and going on a book tour or seeing my short story in a magazine. Yet when faced with a blank sheet of paper, or more recently, a blank Word document, I would find a million other little things to do instead. I gave myself a hundred excuses to give up on the idea of being a writer. I was too overwhelmed with work or my children; I felt too isolated being at home with just my own thoughts. And hadn’t my mother always noticed how unobservant I was? A good writer observes the myriad details of life to inform her prose. No, I convinced myself, that wasn’t me.

I have recently realized that what was holding me back was fear. What if my writing wasn’t good? What if no one wanted to read what I wrote, or worse, disparaged it? What if I hurt someone’s feelings by writing about my personal life? Luckily, I had a friend and mentor to encourage me, some inspiration from other writers, and finally, a determination to go for it no matter what. Now when I sit at the computer for the day’s writing, I take a few deep breaths, and like a swimmer, I dive in. What I create may not always be great, and it may never be published. But in the process of writing, I am finding a sense of freedom and the feeling of truly being myself. To me, that is success.

Procrastinating? I’ll do that tomorrow.

Hobby Lobby Decision an Assault on Women’s Rights

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It’s time to resurrect the ERA. Are you old enough to remember the unsuccessful push to pass the Equal Rights Amendment in the Seventies and Eighties? I was young and idealistic in those days and fervently supported passage of the amendment to the US Constitution. Looking back, I realize that sporting shorts with “ERA NOW” plastered across my butt was probably not the best way to promote the cause.

Yet Monday’s Supreme Court decision in favor of Hobby Lobby has convinced me that it’s time to enshrine women’s rights in the Constitution. The Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby is within its rights to object to providing some aspects of the contraceptive coverage provision in its company health plan on religious grounds.  Mind you, Hobby Lobby was not being required to hand out the so-called “morning after pill” to employees. They were simply being required to provide health care coverage with which their employees could make their own PERSONAL health care decisions.

Conservatives are trying to downplay the implications of the decision by emphasizing that it was a narrow ruling that only covered certain types of businesses and certain types of birth control. Yet such decisions are a slippery slope. Catholic hospitals are already allowed to refuse to perform sterilization procedures such as tubal ligations. Will this new ruling allow them to prevent their employees from seeking such procedures at all? What about a mom and pop drug store in a small town? Will women be prevented from buying contraceptives there because of the owners’ religious objections?

There is always a balance to be struck between individuals’ competing rights. I would never want to require a Catholic doctor to perform an abortion, for example. But there is a huge difference between promoting something to which one has religious objections and allowing others to make that decision for themselves.

In the case of Hobby Lobby, there is also the hypocrisy factor. If the owners are so adamantly opposed to such contraceptives as Plan B and IUDs, they should not invest in pharmaceutical companies that manufacture said drugs and devices. (Source: Huffington Post)

The gains women have made in the past 40 years have been due in large part to their ability to control reproduction. The advent of reliable contraception coincided with the huge influx of women into the work force in the 1970s. The advancement of women’s causes has made our nation stronger.

It’s time to pass an amendment to the Constitution to protect women’s rights and advancements. ERA NOW! (This time I’ll get a t-shirt.)