Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Recollected in Tranquility

There are things that embarrass me that don't embarrass other people. But these things always seem to come from inside. They always seem to involve things I see as intensely personal; something that should burn deep in one's heart and that one should reveal only in a controlled, dignified, selective forms. Wordwsorth called poetry "the spontaneous overflow of emotion recollected in tranquility." In other words, no one wants to read a poem written in the midst of an emotional meltdown -- it is too messy; too undignified; too close. I think a few things in life are like poetry. I think intense feelings need to be filtered before they are released to the world. If they are not, I get downright embarrassed for people.

Spirituality is like this for me. It seems this should be between a person and his chosen deity. I am embarrassed by unfettered displays of spirituality, not because I don't respect the passion of those who perform these displays, but because I feel like an eavesdropper on their spiritual conversations. It feels like I'm in the birthing room of a couple I don't know. Those moments should be intimate, to me; private, not public. (Yet another way in which I am weird, I guess -- people invite their lawn service guys into the birth room now.)

Patriotism is like this, too. Its unabashed, brazen display seems to reduce the profundity of something so important. When people trumpet about patriotism and paint flags everywhere, it feels like cheering at a football game. It is especially tough, for me, in wartime. Obviously, war is so much more than a football game. Unity as a nation is wonderful, but fist-pumping and scowls at cameras meant for anyone "dumb enough to mess with us" is puerile.

I am spiritual and I am patriotic in my own way -- in my personal way. In my heart. And if I am going to display these feelings, it will be with control and restraint.  In short, not like the first video, here, but like the second.

I want to make it clear that the following song is a parody of patriotic songs by a guy named Cledus T. Judd. He is described as "the Weird Al Yankovic of country songs" on You Tube. I did not want to insult anyone's favorite patriotic song. But this makes my point with no harm and no foul. It is called "Don't Mess With America."

"We'll beat you red, white and blue"? Classic.

Now, an example of sensitive patriotism and controlled spirituality in one song -- a song that, in its subtly, taps into the idea of bravery and sacrifice in a way that a million American flag-waving football fans couldn't capture in a century, Gino Vannelli and Roy Freeland's "None So Beautiful as the Brave." The video was made as a tribute to a fallen soldier and, so, focuses on people, not bombs and guns:

Notice the difference even in the images of the video when they are not playing: the first, soldiers. The second: a man who is a soldier. Clearly, a shift in focus.

Maybe my embarrassment is driven by shame for the ways patriotism and spirituality can divide us. One video here uses patriotism as a club with which to beat others; one defines it with real pride in the beauty of bravery and in the wide-eyed dedication to idealism that results in the bittersweet of ultimate sacrifice. But we can only really see the beauty of the human spirit by looking inward. Wearing a flag shirt does not make you a patriot, nor does screaming loudly, stomping your feet, having the World Trade Center airbrushed on your car or parroting "If you don't like America, get out." Loving the spirit of freedom does; really feeling and understanding that spirit does. For Americans, understanding the Constitution does. Voting (when informed) does.

If you love the spirit of freedom, you are a patriot and, strangely, a patriot who could easily belong in many of the free countries of our world. How mystically unifying that sounds.

Art can affect the world for better or worse. Above are examples of both effects. Dignity of expression and intelligence are the defining factors. And they are the elements that I ask for in the expression of others and that I strive for in my own.


  1. Despite the "cheese factor" in Gino, that was a gorgeously beautiful song that had me teary-eyed in about 30 seconds.

    This concept is why I don't participate in those "It's (blank) Week" on Facebook. You know, "if you ever knew anyone affected by cancer," or "if you have a son whom you love with all your heart," copy and repost this as your status...
    What a great way to completely strip the heart and soul out of the person you love/your relationship than to reduce it to a status update on a social networking site.
    I don't need to prove my love and devotion to any person or a particular value to anyone. I try to live it -- not broadcast it.

  2. Bingo. (Except for the evil attack on Gino -- HA!)

  3. I agree with Karen. Beautiful video slightly ruined by the 70's pimp hair Gino is sporting. And I agree about the stupid FB status posts. So lame.

    I agree on the "in your face" stuff wholeheartedly. Which is why I am quite private in all my beliefs and why, after almost 11 years of witnessing the arrogant, self righteous babblings of obnoxious bible thumper clients at my job, I have a strong distaste for organized religion. Both organized and made up organized religions.