Last night I listened to the Democratic presidential debate live via radio. I was going to write about what a complete travesty it was, with stupid, inane questions pandering to the lowest common denominator of society - a penchant for gossip, mud-slinging and name-calling. Issues of substance such as torture, Iraq, China, Tibet and the economy largely were ignored. I was going to write that the moderators did a terrible job and ask what has happened to ABC News? No doubt the late Peter Jennings wouldn't have asked such lightweight questions - he would have focused on the substantive issues that affect us all.
I was going to write that it's hard to single out the most ridiculous question, as the majority were so idiotic. But the one asking Sen. Barack Obama if he respected the American flag was probably the dumbest and most inflammatory. Sen. Obama patiently responded and - unlike the moderators - kept trying to turn the subject back to real issues, saying Americans didn't want to waste time talking about manufactured ones.
I was going to write that people who think those who don't wrap themselves in the American flag, wear flag lapel pins - just in case you forget you're an American - and believe that wearing such a pin equates being patriotic - deserve the government they get. And that those people probably should be reading books and blogs and newspapers and learning about the issues, rather than questioning someone else's patriotism. Because wearing a flag pin has zip nada NOTHING to do with patriotism!
I was going to write that patriotism does not require wearing a silly cheap plastic flag pin bought from Wal-Mart and made in China. I don't care if you drape your front lawn in flags and wear a flag pin every waking moment, if you aren't doing something to establish a dialogue and change the downwards spiral in America, you're part of the problem.
Patriotism is questioning what's happening in our country. Patriotism is being a soldier trying to stay alive amidst terrible conditions in a war fought under false pretenses. Patriotism involves the families who struggle to pay bills while their husband or wife is in Iraq or returning soldiers who have serious injuries, yet must fight to get the proper medical care they need. Patriotism is those who fight for the underdog and try to protect the Constitution and our civil liberties. Patriotism is shining attention on critical issues affecting us all, such as global warming and human rights. Patriotism is helping insure a better future for our children and their children, by keeping informed and involved with issues that impact our lives. Patriotism is thinking for ourselves. It is not accepting blindly what someone else tells us to do - that's fascism.
I was going to write, please spare us any further presidential debates if they are going to insult the viewers and listeners' intelligence. Why can't the media raise substantive issues that really matter, rather than lazily catering to fabricated nonsense? I was going to ask are we really such an entertainment-lite culture that we have forgotten how to think for ourselves and question our leaders and potential future president?
All this I was going to write... then I saw the Hafiz poem Out of the Mouths of a Thousand Birds, a simple, yet powerful reminder of what's important in the grand scheme of things:
Listen more carefully to what is around you
...There is an astonishing vastness
of movement and Life
Emanating sound and light
from my folded hands
And my even quieter simple being and heart.
Is it true that your mind
is sometimes like a battering
Running all through the city,
Shouting so madly inside and out
About the ten thousand things
That do not matter?
Listen more carefully
to what is inside of you right now.
In my world
All that remains is the wondrous call to
Dance and prayer
Rising up like a thousand suns
out of the mouth of a
Pensive oil and mixed media on panel by Randall LaGro. Photo courtesy of Blue Rain Gallery, Taos and Santa Fe, New Mexico.