I stand because I don't have to

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

I could go in a totally different direction with this column, but I feel to come from the positive rather than the negative perspective I could easily take. So much could be said, and so much has been said -- and I've said a lot of it myself. Much of it has been out of anger and frustration at the position people have chosen to take. Not today.

Today, I want to let my gratefulness pour out and allow that spirit to override everything else.

One of the most precious aspects of American culture is our national anthem. "The Star-Spangled Banner" has united us as a people. It's been a staple at community activities, sporting events, graduations and more. For the 2 or 3 minutes it takes to sing, we are one -- no matter our age, birthplace, occupation or gender. We are Americans, and this is our anthem.

It makes some smile, others cry, and all reflect. Even the hardest hearts, the toughest dudes, the grumpiest grouches melt when the chords are struck and a voice belts out the song that only the most talented can get through without squealing; it is, after all, no small feat to sing those lyrics well. But whether it's belted out in perfect pitch or the singer squeals and squawks, by the time we get to the last line, we erupt in cheers with hearts of pride.

I acknowledge that neither our anthem nor its author, Francis Scott Key, is without controversy. Neither is our nation. Our complexity highlights our journey. One cannot look at our past without appreciating how far we've come and our potential to go further. It's one reason a diversity of people joined together at every possible opportunity is a cause of celebration. We are not ignorant of our past, but we are not stuck there, either.

Our anthem has become a tribute to those who serve in our military, lives committed to keeping us safe. It's a reminder of those who laid theirs down in defense of ours, in defense of freedom and opportunity. It's a reflection of our flag -- our symbol of liberty and justice, qualities that we value in this country, qualities to which we ever aspire.

This is what our national anthem stands for. So this is why I stand for it. I stand knowing that such a seemingly small gesture matters. I stand knowing that others can no longer stand because of the price they paid to defend my honor. I stand not foolishly thinking the United States is a perfect nation, but realizing that it is the best one there is. I stand knowing that I do have the freedom not to stand. But really, why wouldn't I? In America, I can choose to sit or take a knee or walk away, something I would not get away with in many other countries -- which is, of course, the main reason I have no desire to sit or take a knee or walk away. The irony.

I pray that the unity that many feel as we come together in various places for various reasons would only deepen. I pray for healing for our nation and that the challenges we face only serve to make us better. I pray that we buckle not under the weight of bitterness or fear or anger, but that we stand as the mighty people we have been called to be. Yes, I pray that we stand.

Reportedly, below is the complete version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" with punctuation and spelling from Francis Scott Key's manuscript in the Maryland Historical Society:

O say can you see, by the dawn's early light,

What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming,

Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight

O'er the ramparts we watch'd were so gallantly streaming?

And the rocket's red glare, the bomb bursting in air,

Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,

O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave

O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Adrienne Ross is owner of Adrienne Ross Communications and a former Southeast Missourian editorial board member. Contact her at aross@semissourian.com.

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