I stand by my original comments, there. But, after rereading the article, my thoughts settled on the words of Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, who voted in favor of the bill and added that she hoped “the state would apply the commitment to ‘justice for all’ in the pledge to issues like education funding, criminal justice and removing the sales tax for food.”
It seems that the bill is only intended to ensure that the school administrators, themselves, meet the requirement, already in place, to “give students an opportunity” to recite the Pledge.
Knowing the words gives kids cultural literacy, if nothing else. I remember when my son was helping to place flags at the SD7 Democratic Convention, back in 2008, he asked if he could lead the Pledge of Allegiance. He was 12, at the time. What he did not know is that the place would, in a matter of hours, be packed – I think there were over 3500 people in attendance. He’d never spoken on a stage before, or to so large an audience. I felt my chest tighten with a mix of pride and terror. The Chair asked, “Do you know the words to the Texas Pledge, too?” For half a second, I was relieved – who knew there was such a thing as a Pledge to the Texas Flag? I thought this might get my son off the hook for a commitment he couldn’t yet grasp. And then he piped up, with confidence well beyond his years: “Old words, or new?”
It was an amazing thing to behold as he led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance and then, as they began to sit, gracefully transitioned into the Pledge to the Texas Flag. His calm confidence was met with the nervous laughter of hundreds, if not a thousand, adults who had not grown up attending Texas schools and reciting both Pledges, each morning, in school.
I hope that teachers will take this as an opportunity to have a conversation about what it really means to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Yes, even at the elementary school level. To talk with students about what it means to make a promise, and why an oath should not be made lightly or under duress. To teach the history of the Pledge, as well as the history of its inclusion/exclusion of the words “under God.” To talk about why “freedom of religion” is an important part of our Constitution. And absolutely to discuss why we feel so strongly about “justice for ALL” and what does that even mean today, when we look at the news? There are so many potential “teachable moments” in there. I hope they put the time to good use, and don’t just turn it into an exercise in rote memorization and parroting.
Visiting my grandparents, as a kid, I learned that not a bite of food was to be eaten before saying grace – lest I choke on a lump of food wrapped in a chewy ball of guilt, covered in the sharp, stinging crunch of stern looks.
We rarely said grace before meals, at home. No one I knew, then, made a point of saying it. And I absolutely dreaded being put on the spot during mealtime, at my grandparents’ house, when I was given the dubious “honor” of being asked to lead the prayer. Someone had taught me the old, “Good food, good meat, good God, let’s eat,” but I knew, instinctively, that this was inappropriate. Suppressing giggles did not make the task of leading the prayer any easier. “God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food, amen,” was about the best I was ever able to muster. Judging by the small smiles I got, a child saying that beat a long-winded adult sermon listing out all our blessings and everything we ought to be thankful for as we dwelt on the misfortunes of starving children in Cambodia. Or Africa. Or somewhere over there where I could not, to my chagrin, send urgent care packages of my grandmother’s fried liver and onions. It was not for lack of wanting to, believe me. Not only did I have compassion – if not empathy – for “starving children,” I thought they would have been better served by her liver and onions, and far more thankful for them, than I. To add insult to injury, if I did not choke them down, I’d be blamed for the next rainy day.
Some small part of me believes Hurricane Harvey was all my fault.
Still, my grandfather’s briefer words come back to me – a mixture of traditional prayer and Book of Common Prayer, apparently:
For what we are about to receive, Lord
Make us truly thankful.
And make us ever mindful of the needs of others.
In Jesus’ name, we ask it. Amen.
I really never understood why we had to ask it in Jesus’ name, why we couldn’t just…ask it. Weren’t we already praying directly to God? Did we have to invoke his son to get him to take pity on us and smack us with Eden’s green switch of instant gratitude and mindfulness? I suppose that makes me a true Protestant, though I didn’t realize it, at the time.
But do we really need to ask to be made thankful and mindful of the needs of others?
Shouldn’t we be thankful without being made to be? Over the last few years, the “gratitude journal” has become a thing. And I think that being mindful of all we have to be thankful for is different from being thankful for it in the first place. Recording the good things that happen to us or are given to us in the course of our daily lives, to look back on in moments when we feel as if nothing ever goes right, is helpful. But even an animal is thankful in the moment – we shouldn’t have to pray to be made to be.
Shouldn’t we be “ever mindful of the needs of others” without being made to be? It’s easy to be aware that there are others, in need, “out there” in the world. I suppose we could pray that our eyes be opened and our observational skills sharpened, that we notice or recognize the specific needs of others, some right there next to us, at all. We get so caught up in our own lives that we can’t possibly be aware of all the needs of others. And that may be a good, healthy thing – sometimes, the needs are so great that it’s overwhelming and hard to know what we can do to help, so we do nothing, lest we drown in sorrow. Like the proverbial donkey that starved between two bales of hay, unable to decide which to start eating first. And it’s not always possible for others to ask – either because they are so overwhelmed by what they need, or too ashamed or proud to ask for help from others. That’s when we need not only mindfulness, but awareness and understanding of when the boundaries we normally set between us and our neighbors ought to be ignored and tested.
It’s good to remember, then, to be thankful for what we have – especially for what we have but have not earned, either through the grace of God or sheer luck or the kindness of others – and to want that goodness for those in need, enough to help provide for them.
My friend Damyanti Biswas (@damyantiwrites) started the We Are the World Blogfest because, “Social media and news in recent times has been filled with hate and negativity. Just as you cannot fight darkness, only light lamps, Hate and Negativity cannot be fought. You need to bring Love and Positivity forward instead.” I owe her months and months of posts. I think we all need to work harder to light the lamps of love and positivity within ourselves and others.
I learned this morning of the #BeKind initiative. It is “based on four pillars of character: trust, empathy, honesty and courage. But you can’t teach character like you teach Math or Science. Character is built. It is experienced and reciprocated. It is both a feeling and a choice. We help create environments that foster trust so that kindness is not seen as weakness, but as strength. Where creativity, collaboration and excellence thrive. Where adults and children alike communicate effectively and in a respectful manner.” This really drove the point home, and emphasized the importance of what #BeKind, #WATWB, and other similar efforts are attempting to do – to “[remind] people what kindness looks like, what it sounds like and what it feels like.” We take for granted that people should know what kindness looks, sounds, and feels like. But it’s hard, when the news and social media are dominated by examples of its opposites, so eager to highlight the callous, cruel, corrupt, and criminal in us.
“Statistically,” according to the folks at https://2bekind.com/, “kind behaviors lead to more joy, better health, higher grades, more energy, greater productivity, and increased self-esteem. And the list goes on.”
Let’s all lead by example, by being more thoughtful about our promises, grateful for the goodness in our lives, and more aware of and mindful of the needs of others – starting by showing each other a little more kindness than we did the day before.