When I began blogging for the Patch exactly one year ago tomorrow, I issued my personal "52 Week Challenge to Patriotism". That simple act began a journey that I could never have imagined. With no idea of the direction it would take, my burning desire to try to find patriotism drove me forward.
I did so because I had begun to lose faith in America. "My" America had seemingly disappeared before my very eyes. I wanted to leave this county...but where could I go? After losing everything I'd ever worked for there was no money to leave...and despite that, I knew that America was still the greatest country on earth; my homeland. I needed to remind myself of that, and simply roll-up my sleeves and get busy rebuilding what I could, accepting what I couldn't, and changing what I wanted.
Within a short time of creating the "Challenge", I issued the first of many calls for volunteers to participate in projects I would ultimately create. Beginning with the Fourth of July "Stand & Honor Living Memorial", there flowed a steady stream of ideas and projects that required thousands of volunteers! Whether it was the "9/11 Empty Shoe Memorial", "Letters4Vets" program, "Christmas Cards for Vets", "Valentines for Veterans", or my last endeavor, "The Warrior Dog Project", you've never disappointed me. Each time, new people emerged who wanted to climb aboard the patriotic train and have just a small part in something important. I have no way of knowing an exact number, but yes, there were thousands who eventually answered the volunteer call!
I was looking everywhere for it (patriotism); creating events, projects, writing about thoughts and opinions, talking to people, reading books and writing my third book "Final Tributes", but still I felt it eluded me. It's not as if people wear a sign on their forehead saying, "I'm patriotic".
Then, it hit me....something I'd said when I began my quest. "Patriotism begins with the individual". That was it! A simple, pure, thought. As long as I loved America, and cared about actively demonstrating a commitment to helping make it a better place, in whatever way I could, then I knew patriotism lived. It lived because I'm not that different than millions of other people. I simply decided to consciously think about my place in "my" America and what it means to me. I've decided to make my country the "focal" point, to in some way perhaps, make up for those who are too busy or disinterested to do so. I've chosen to lead people in patriotic activities, helping them connect to their own "patriotic action button" (not political). I love seeing the fire ignited as others begin to understand how utterly simple it is to do so, and what a difference it makes.
I've learned a great deal about myself, my community and my country. It has occurred to me that we must never stop learning and participating. We have an obligation to uphold the ideal of freedom and democracy by continually educating ourselves about issues of importance. Sometimes people have told me that they were very patriotic, and when I asked them in what way, they were at a loss for words. We can't just hide patriotism in our hearts and minds. We must get it out of our heads and actively find ways to "be" patriotic. Patriotism must become an action verb. It must become a national "past time". We can't give that task to the other guy! Each individual needs to aspire to something greater than themselves, their needs or their wants. Whether it's respect for the flag (stand-up - salute), saying the Pledge of Allegiance, obeying our laws, taking responsibility for our actions, and accepting their consequences, we can be good citizens.
Patriotism can be demonstrated by teaching our children strong values and morals, serving our country, speaking up when we see things that are unfair, or contrary to what the founding fathers envisioned for our democracy. We can stop believing that it's the government's job to take care of everyone, and we can start being good neighbors and helping our own...you know, the old fashioned way people used to do it before so many bought into the idea that it was the government's job to do so?
When we become complacent and apathetic, our freedom can easily slip away. Ronald Reagan once said, "Democracy is only one generation away from extinction", and that is so true. It's not genetically transmitted, but instead must be earned, protected and honored by each subsequent generation.
What I've done is so small...relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but it has been transformational for me and a learning tool. I think it's also given many in our community pause to reflect about their role in a democracy. It has helped hundreds - actually thousands, in our community to participate in patriotic ways and to understand that one person can, indeed, be a force for change. That is amazing to me! Had you asked me five years ago if that would have been possible, you would have received a resounding NO!
One of the most wonderful things that has happened during this Don Quixote-like quest has been the new friendships I've forged. Meeting many of my neighbors, business owners, and others in Oswego and the Fox Valley area has been a privilege. Forging relationships with our phenomenal students and teachers at many of District 308's schools has been an eye-opener and when we say our children are the future, then believe me, Oswego has a bright one. The opportunity to work side-by-side with all of these people gives me an insight into the goodness and desire of others to care about something beyond themselves. We've often put politics aside and brought patriotism to the forefront. I've also had the thrill of becoming friends with several best-selling authors, veterans advocates and others who have similar interests. That's pretty amazing.
My world has grown considerably and continues to do so. What began as a simple question, actually became a quest. My life will never go back to what it was before. My passion has grown, along with my personal commitment to America. Each time I'm in the midst of a project I wonder if it will be my last; if I'll come up with anything else, but I've learned that the answer is an emphatic YES! There is always something waiting to be discovered, or a cause needing our help. So, you'll still be hearing a call for volunteers, and I'll still be sending you my blogs about the many issues that grab me emotionally. We need one another and we can all make a difference.
Thank you friends and fellow Oswegoans for showing me that patriotism lives and breaths within each of us. We yearn for an opportunity to be someone, to do something, to help someone, and to make a difference. It only takes one person to create change, and altruism lurks within each of us. Some people are leaders; some are followers. Each is important. Without one we wouldn't have the other. Each of you has been a link in the patriotic chain and you should be proud, but our work is not done. There will always be an opportunity to make a difference. I hope you'll continue to heed the call for help within our community and beyond. We need you!
You have inspired me beyond what I thought myself capable of, and you are the reason that my year-long journey continued and fluorished. Thank you so much for the support I needed when the journey became rough,, or when my self-doubt crept in. You cheered me on; you made a difference. Remember, we're in this together. And, for those of you who read this column, I'll sign off with
As always...................(you fill in the blank!)