Full disclosure: I had never heard of Colin Kaepernick prior to this week. Couldn’t pick him out of a lineup.  Wouldn’t know who he was if he showed up on my front porch, wrapped in a feather boa and tap dancing to the Annie soundtrack. I don’t like sports. I hate sports. I could write for days on the ridiculous glorification of sports stars.  All that notwithstanding, Mr. Kaepernick, his fluffy hair, and, most importantly, his heart, caught my attention. To put it plainly, I support him and, although I shouldn’t be, I’m flabbergasted by the outrage at his actions.

In America, we have this big thing about patriotism. Thanks to the current political climate brought on by the Republican Party nominating an Oompa Loompa for president, nationalism and being a “patriot” is a big thing right now. We’re expected to wrap ourselves in red, white, and blue, and scream our love for this country from the rooftops. If we don’t, there must be something wrong with us. Maybe we don’t love our country as much as our neighbor? Maybe we’re one of those maligned, evil “foreigners” who hasn’t assimilated? 

My question is this – who gets to set the definition of what makes someone a “true” American?

Growing up, I used to hate saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Every day we did it and every single day, I dreaded it. We stood, put our hands on our hearts, and recited it, our voices rote and devoid of emotion, day in and day out and I never understood why.  Who were we doing it for? Each other? Our teacher? We were there to assure the flag that we loved it? What was the point? Was it a law or was it just this thing we did? If it was just a thing we were supposed to do, why?

As best as I can understand, one’s patriotism or love of country is not solely defined by the saying of the Pledge or standing during the National Anthem or hanging a flag in front of your house. In fact, those things I just mentioned? Those are the most superficial ways you can possibly exhibit your love of country. It’s no different than those who scream about how awesome Jesus is whenever they want, go to church on Sunday, and then cheat on their spouses during the week. It’s false. It’s fake. It’s like scraping one tiny spot off an orange peel with your nail; you’ve barely begun to dig in when those things – a flag, a pledge, and an anthem - are the way you choose to say that you love America.

I love this country very much. I’m extremely thankful to live here. I’m proud of the military service of my family and love living in a Navy town where I can do things to honor our service members whenever I get the chance. Do I have a flag hanging in front of my house? No. Will I ever? Nope.

If you love America – really love her as she is and not as you want her to be once those you don’t agree with are somehow removed from it - stop yapping about and judging a professional football player that’s not standing for the anthem and get outside and do something for this country.

Donate to a charity.

Stop and acknowledge the homeless person on the street corner instead of looking the other way.  Hell, hand him $5 if you have it to spare.

March in support of something. Take a stand about a political topic or belief that really gets your blood boiling. 

Get out and drive the back roads and take the time to simply appreciate where you live.

Drive to a national park and take it all in.

Go stand in the middle of a cornfield, lift your eyes to the sky, and breathe in the amazing scents of earth and growth and life that swirls around you on the wind.

Being an American means immersing yourself in life here, as ugly and as scary as it can be at times, because this is your life, your home, and where your heart resides.

The bottom line is this – no one gets to decide who is patriotic and who isn’t. If crying during the National Anthem and waving a flag in someone’s face makes you happy, go be that person. If you don’t rise during the anthem because you stand for something more than three colors printed on a piece of fabric, that’s okay, too.  This is America, and we’re allowed to be American however we choose to define it, even if the righteously indignant find that idea horrifying. If that’s not something to love about this country, I don’t know what is.

                                                

Published by Rachel Hayden