As most mornings begin, I am on the lanai (screened porch) of our condo. It looks out on a pond that is the centerpiece of our condominium community. Not only does this pond serve to hold storm water and to provide irrigation; it is also a state protected rookery for birds. It is home to several species of fish, at least three species of turtle, an otter (I have only seen one) and several species of water birds. We are regularly visited by a number of avian species daily. In the midst of commerce, this is a space of quiet, and I find it easy to slide into contemplative prayer....or allow my thoughts to meander for a while.
This morning, a wood stork cruised in and landed gracefully about four feet outside our lanai. Though I moved a bit to get a better look, the stork was totally unintimidated by my presence. He simply looked at me for a bit and then began ambling in a very casual manner. This kind of thing happens often with herons, ducks, gallinules, seagulls, storks, turtles and a variety of other animal folk. None of the visitors seem concerned about my presence...even when I move about. This raised a consideration.
Because of the nature of this place...the fact that it has been here about eight years now...that folks living here never try to harm them, there is a developed sense of safety and well-being about being here. It is a type of symbiosis (if you will), which may say something about what it means to be a human who is a steward of creation...not its master.
In essence, I (and my neighbors) stand between the protected and guarded safety of this environment and the often dangerous elements of an ever decreasing natural habitat. Those dangers, mind you, are much more human induced than the result of natural predation. I have, on a few occasions, seen a red shouldered hawk or bald eagle swoop into our pond area and make off with what will become a meal. That's part of a natural cycle.
Though this pond is place of stability and safety, it is by no means static. The water cycles constantly. There are seasonal changes to the habitat (yes, even in Southwest Florida). While it looks the same, our pond, and our ecology here are in a state of constant shift and change...both on the micro and macro levels. In two years of living here, I have never sat down on the lanai and not seen something new, different or ever so slightly shifted.
Over the course of 63 years of life, I have had the privilege of being able to experience a lot of ways of expressing who I am: a child, a student, a friend, occasionally an enemy, a laborer in a warehouse, a laborer/chemist in a processing facility (making fruit drinks), a military person (Navy), a priest, a theologian, a husband, a father, a leader, a team member, a consultant and a retiree (sort of). That's not naming everything. Every day has been different, and the "hat" I wear seems to shift.
One of the places to which I often return, in gathering memories, is my six years of being part of the military complex. Before taking the oath of enlistment in the U.S. Navy in 1972, I was convinced that military personnel were folks who entered a system, had their brains "scrubbed" and emerged as automatons....cookie cut human military machines. This is a completely naive way of thinking about such a complex culture, and I learned....very, very quickly....that such an image was totally, completely and absolutely false. There are men and women from all walks of life, conditions of being and diversity of culture, ideology and capability. What was different about the military...in my experience...was that, in large measure, the diversity was not a factor in doing the work. What happens in the military is the building of a team of trust and mutuality. This is most especially true of Special Forces personnel.
During my years of military service, I came to know a number of Navy and Marine special operation persons. The general public only really sees the "big news" elements of service....like an Afghanistan or Iraq war or combat situations arising from a political crisis (e.g. Somalia, Grenada). Truth is that special forces personnel die often in the kind of combat that no one knows about. In the work I did, I saw this on several occasions. I suggest watching the movie, "Act of Valor." It is a movie releasd in 2012 that depicts the quiet fight against terrorism that takes place almost on a daily basis. The events of the movie are vignettes taken from true events. Most of the actors are actual active duty military personnel. And SEAL Team 7 does specialize in anti-terrorist operations.
In the founding our our country, the persons we generally call "Patriots," were indeed the brave ones that publicly stood up to the British Crown on behalf of an emerging, cohesive culture. A patriot, in this venue, is willing to put life and reputation on the line for something larger than simple self-interest. None of the founders of our nation had "the answer" to what form this new enterprise would take. In fact, there were great differences among them regarding how this new nation would be established. Over time, and with much anguish, a framework emerged that would be, first, a Declaration of Independence, and, later, the Constitution of the United States. Regardless of the differences in political theory or personal principles, each of these founders were patriots.
What about the militiamen who stood on Concord Bridge or at Lexington? What about those unnamed persons who believed in what was nothing more than a dream, and placed their entire lives on the line to protect those who could not fight? What about those who would, after the War of Independence, speak for and protect those who, during the war, supported the British government? The very first Bishop of the American Episcopal Church (formerly the Church of England) had been a chaplain for the British army. Yet, after the war, the first convention of the revitalized Episcopal Church unanimously elected Samuel Seabury as its first Bishop. Among those in the electorate were a number of our country's founders.
A stork pays me a visit on a warm 4th of July morning. In its simple way of cognition, does it sense that I am a protector? While not an act of patriotism, it does come at a point.
The Patriot is one who is most often unknown, or unrecognized, who lives and functions in ways that stand for those who are not able to protect themselves. The Patriot is one who most often puts his/her own ego needs aside in order to defend and speak for the greater whole.
The men and women I have known...and do know...who daily risk (and sometimes lose) their lives for the greater whole, are not concerned about political ideology, race, religion or ethnic heritage. They are concerned that all of those folks...in all of their diversity...have the right to live free and responsible lives.
While we are not short of patriots who are daily "on the line," we are quite short on the patriotic character that stands for the principle of caring for the greatest common good and for the welfare of all souls.
I think we may be descending into an oligarchy, where a few corporations hold a great deal of power and influence. This does not reflect an evolving, vital or maturing culture. It is a devolution into a place that created the 18th century French revolution and American revolution. I am praying that the quiet sacrifices of those who are Patriots are not simply persons standing at a bridge to nowhere.
With opportunity and possibility comes challenge. Will we, once again, have a Martin Luther King or the type of leaders who gave us the Civil Rights Acts of 1964/65? Will the middle class re-emerge as the backbone of American culture? Will we heal the damage done to the First Nations peoples? Will we raise up the poor and downtrodden....give hope to those in deepest need? It is the bridge upon which our infant nation's Patriots stood. Who is a Patriot?