There are many reasons why this essay is showing up again today, not the least of which is that it is Memorial Day. So, in memory and gratitude, here are my thoughts.
I am not a patriot. That’s what I hear on the news anyway, or read in the paper from any number of people who insist that, to be a patriot, I must support a war. I don’t support the war. I don’t support any war. It was bad enough to see on the news every night that my principles were being maligned as unpatriotic, but then co-workers began to look at me suspiciously as I joined in conversations at work. Me – unpatriotic? That had never been called into question in my life, except once after a trip to France in my junior year of high school when I announced I was moving back to Montpelier as soon as possible because I liked it better there and Madame Samuelson almost failed me on the spot for being unpatriotic as well as kind of impetuous. As it was being called into question by anonymous countrymen and women as well as people who actually know me, I decided it was time to take a look at that which I long thought was intrinsically mine – as an American. And I found, both to my dismay and surprise that I am, in fact, not a patriot at all. I am a matriot.
Don’t look it up – it’s not there. Patriot is, of course. The Oxford-English Dictionary defines “patriot” as “one who self-sacrificingly exerts himself to promote the well being of his country; one whose ruling passion is the love of his country; one who maintains and defends his country’s freedom or rights”. And in fact “matriotism” is in the OED as well. “Love of one’s mother-land, alma mater” it said. If patriot is love of fatherland, then I am a matriot - of the mother land. I represent those softer, nurturing qualities that only a mother can get away with and, in addition, I will defend my country’s freedom and rights. I just won’t do it with a gun. What I will do is mourn every single name on the news each night that tallies another life lost. I will turn the TV off when I can’t watch the “tank-cam” any longer or one more inch of footage of an actual firefight. All I want to do is figure out how to bring home the brand new orphans. My arms literally ache when I see another stretcher bearing wounded. Because I am anti-war, it does not mean I am not supporting our troops over in Iraq – or wherever they may be sent. I want them home – all of them. Safe, sound and mowing lawns, preparing tax returns and taking care of their own children. But since they are there, I will pray for them and I will pray for those who stand in their way as they try and achieve their goals – invasion, destruction, death. War for me is not a means to an end, an “operation”, a strategic plan with acceptable loss. It is broken down into hundreds of thousands of individuals, many of them children, who will block bullets with their bodies as heads of state check daily updates from CentCom. It is a tragic event, no matter how I look at it and I can’t help but be sad, as if every single one of those people were my own child. There was no definition in the OED for one who cannot send off those to whom she has given birth, literally or metaphorically, to kill or be killed in a war calculated by men who will never set foot in the place. So I made one up. Matriot – (NOT an antonym to patriot); one who self sacrificingly exerts herself to promote the well-being of her fellow countrypeople; one whose ruling passion is love.
We live in a bounteous nation with such a wide array of natural resources available to us it is almost shameful. There is such beauty in our endless landscapes, unbroken coastlines and glorious mountains that it seems impossible that it all exists between two shores and beholding it is literally breathtaking. The creativity and ingenuity that is nurtured and allowed free reign in this country rockets past conventional boundaries; and our country’s great minds outdo each other in feats of genius and discovery. No, I love my country. I am grateful to be in America. I don’t think many of us even get that the freedoms we enjoy as a nation don’t even exist in many countries. I would protect that, definitely. But I don’t just want to stand up and wave the flag without some substance behind it. And the best substance I can think of is to take care of those who are my responsibility.
If I could go to Iraq right now and help by comforting, holding or soothing, I would, because I sure couldn’t help anyone by bringing a gun with me. It doesn’t have to be an American soldier – it could be a British soldier or even an Iraqi civilian. I don’t want to feel that my loyalty to country is called into question because I don’t condone killing. I simply feel, as a mother, that before – or even at the same time – that Congress approves nearly 80 million dollars for the war in Iraq and its aftermath, that we should make sure that our own house is in order. That our children are fed. And that they are clothed and adequately educated. Could it be a priority that our countrymen and women don’t freeze in the streets because they have no homes or that other countrymen and women are denied anything because of race or gender? If 80 billion dollars is available through this government to execute a plan to wage war in another country and then rebuild that country, then couldn’t even half of that unimaginable sum of money be available for children right here in the United States? I only pose these questions because I am a mother. I have borne children of my own and I have taught hundreds of others in elementary school. If there is one thing I believe for sure it is that children need to be looked after. And so do some others who can’t take care of themselves. I believe it is our country’s duty to take care of our own. I believe that killing is wrong and that, as Dr. King said, “peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal”. And I am pretty sure I believe all of this without hesitancy because I am a matriot.