Wednesday, September 24, 2008


For Canadians, an excess of patriotism is as enviable as an excess of stomach gas. So I grimaced when the man in uniform announced, from the side of the stage, that all servicemen and women, veterans, or their families, were asked to stand during the appropriate portion of the Armed Forces Medley

It was last July 4th, and I had decided to spend my first Independence Day in the United States by seeing the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center. To celebrate the occasion, the conductor had invited the United States Military Academy Band to join the Philharmonic onstage for the second half of the show, and sitting through the Medley seemed to be the price of an otherwise enjoyable review of Aaron Copland greats. So I buckled down and waited for it to be over. 

A few bars into the Medley, the man in uniform shouted out "Coast Guard." An old man in the third row stood up; a handful of others followed, gingerly at first, then with more confidence. The man in uniform shouted "Navy," and more stood up, faster this time, and different ages--old men, but young men too. He shouted "Marines," and more young people stood up, men but also women, standing on their own or holding the hands of young children. At the shout of "Air Force" whole groups of people sprang up around the room, older men with their wives, their children, friends they had served with, young families too. 

Finally, the man cried out "Army," and great swaths of the auditorium were on their feet, old and young, men and women, children raised up out of their seats by mothers and grandparents and aunts and uncles, smiling at them as if to say, See, it's alright, other people's fathers are over there too.

Patriotism may be a foreign concept for Canadians. But that one moment, on my first July 4th in America,  I got the idea.

No comments: