Sunday, February 4, 2007

god bless america

Hearing our national anthem sung or played always makes me teary. It doesn't even matter if it's done poorly, as long as it is performed with conviction & sincerity. (So, Jimi Hendrix = brilliant and moving; Roseanne = disgraceful and rage-inspiring). I'm sure when you read this, you understand the sentiment because a) you are undoubtedly a kind & thoughtful person and b) it is, after all, a song to remind us of those who fought - and still fight - for our freedoms. However, think about how embarrassing this affliction is in the context of setting.

The most forgiving situation is me sitting in my own home surrounded by family members - they love me and know I'm a sensitive person who gets a little wiggly during certain movies (and commercials, and stories, and some songs...). But it's still alarming for kids to see Mom cry. Moms shouldn't cry! At least not in front of anyone! What do we do?? Look away, get some chocolate, tell a joke!

In the mildly distressing category is me at a public sporting event. Luckily this doesn't happen often as the only sport I truly love is pro football, but my team rarely plays within 200 miles of here and tickets are crazy expensive. Plus, no one wants to go with me; something about taking it 'too seriously.' Whatever. Anyway, here is how it goes at the game: Everybody's excited, getting concessions and finding seats, chatting and laughing and betting before the start. Then out comes the flag, usually with soldiers or Boy Scouts or somebody else far braver than I, and my throat constricts. I can still play it cool, as long as no one wants me to talk. But then the music starts. I have to swallow repeatedly and open my eyes very wide - I've tried closing them and thinking of something else (the coach's ugly tie, what's for dinner, who I want voted out of Survivor), but that doesn't help - eyes sting, tears fall, much worse for everyone. When the song ends, I can never decide if it's better to clap enthusiastically and hoot with the rest of the crowd (are they also feeling uncomfortable about this strangely reflective & affecting moment?) or avoid everyone's eyes and take a quiet minute to breathe deeply. I've done both; neither feels particularly comfortable for me. I can't imagine breaking down and sobbing will bring relief (to anyone, frankly), but switching gears so quickly reminds me of the guys who are accidentally emotional in front of each other then start talking forcefully about manly things. And then, incongruously, the event erupts and we're back to game faces, howling at refs and whooping for our team. Reflection over, PLAY BALL!

The worst scenario, however, is a school event. I have vowed never to bawl in front of students, not because I don't want them to know I am a sensitive individual but because it is inevitably a sign of weakness. Like limping in front of hyenas. To them, there is no difference between patriotic crying and frustrated, defeated crying - all crying is embarrassing to teenagers, and their embarrassment leads to hostility. Thus, I have to prepare mightily for assemblies in order to avoid irreparable damage to my street cred; one red-rimmed eye or a sniffle and I've lost the pack. It is particularly difficult in this case because almost certainly the anthem singer/player is a kid, which is far more poignant for me. Maybe it's the innocent earnestness, or the slight lack of confidence in otherwise cool & savvy teens. Regardless, those are the longest four minutes of my professional life. Deep breath, exhale.

The take-away point for today: In the event of our being together at any function involving the American flag and/or our national anthem, please do us both a favor and avoid eye contact until, well, I'll let you know when. Okay? *sob* Look away.