"April is the cruellest month," notes T. S. Eliot in his poem, "The Waste Land."
For most of us, however, April brings pleasures and celebrations. Where I live, the forsythias have exploded, causing my young granddaughter to wonder why all the bushes were turning yellow. Easter and Passover are just around the corner, my grandchildren, heartier souls than Grandpa, are playing in the yard in shorts and t-shirts, and the weather report is calling for temperatures in the 70s.
But in Eliot's poem, he also speaks of April “mixing/ Memory with desire, stirring/ Dull roots with spring rain.” Though his lines carry a different meaning altogether, I am stealing them here to mix memory and desire, and to water some dull roots with spring rain.
It is that time of the year when we should pause and water the roots of old names—Lexington and Concord—and recollect the farmers, tinkers, and shopkeepers who first fought for American freedom on April 19, 1775. On that day British troops marched from Boston to Lexington and then to Concord, seeking to confiscate the guns and munitions of the Colonial militia.
Their endeavor stirred up a hornet’s nest of Americans, a rag-tag band of Minute Men who at Concord fought the British troops to a standstill and drove them with heavy losses back into Boston.
In the film Shanghai Knights, Owen Wilson sums up the American Revolution in this way: “They came over here with about a million men. We had a bunch of farmers with pitchforks and beat ‘em like a drum.” An American exaggeration, yes, but the April victory stunned the English, kicked off the Revolution, and opened the road to independence.
That date eventually became known as Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts, which celebrates the battles of Lexington and Concord with various events, including the Boston Marathon. Only three other states—Maine, Wisconsin, and Connecticut—officially recognize this holiday.
During the Revolution, Patriots were those who sought to cast off British rule. Until recently, the lower-case patriot, which my Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines as “one who loves his country and supports its authority and interests,” was a high compliment bestowed for services to flag and country.
Today it is a word we rarely hear.
Has patriotism gone out of fashion? Is love of country no longer a virtue?
It depends on where we look for it.
Where I live in Virginia, many houses and businesses sport the American flag. Certain bumper stickers proclaim patriotic sentiments. Neighbors and friends honor traditional American values in their approach to work, family, and liberty.
When I read, however, about some politicians and celebrities, or watch them online, their love for their country is much harder to detect. Some of them, indeed, seem to detest the land that has bestowed on them fame, fortune, and power.
The same disconnect holds true for the second part of the definition. An example: most Americans I know, including many liberal friends, oppose illegal immigration, believing it inimical to the authority and interests of the United States. Yet a sizable number of politicians and celebrities either believe otherwise or are too weak to take action, allowing what amounts to an invasion of our southern borders.
Many people I know, again including liberals, believe the federal government is too big and its spending out of control, and that such waste goes against the interests of the United States. Yet we have a Congress that keeps on spending our money like drunken sailors—I think they have forgotten it is our money—often with little return.
Please do not misunderstand me. I’m not advocating blind patriotism. G.K. Chesterton once wrote “‘My country, right or wrong’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate circumstance. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober.’” I agree. True patriots critique, as well as praise, their country’s past and present. This criticism, however, should be offered as if between friends or husband and wife, with love, sincerity, and intentions for improvement.
Yet these days some behave more as if they were in an ugly divorce than in a lover’s quarrel. They show little love for our country, declaiming our nation’s faults from the rooftops while burying its accomplishments with silence. For them, “My country, right or wrong” does not exist. Their country is always wrong.
Patriots’ Day offers an antidote to this poison, an opportunity for reflection. On April 19, we can remember the people who helped build and preserve America, and take a moment to thank whatever powers that be for the country in which we live.
Is it time to water those dull roots and rekindle our love affair with the United States of America?
[Image Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Linda LaBonte Britt]