Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wife Rule #57: Symbols Matter

Once again, my wife and I are losers.

And it feels great.

Not great to lose--I never like losing. But it feels great to have played the game.

You see, yesterday was a primary election in our state, and my wife and I both took the time to become as educated as possible, make our decisions, and cast our ballots. Unfortunately, more people with different opinions than us cast ballots too.

This seems to happen a lot. In fact, in the ten years that we have been married, I would guess that we have lost about 80% of the close races that we felt strongly about. We have had our victories, usually when we agree with the landslide majority. But it seems like most of the time when there is a close race or complex issue that merits careful consideration and good debate, we come out on the losing end.

But with a registered voter turnout of only about 10% yesterday, my wife and I are both glad that we took the time to learn, to care, and to vote, win or lose.

I am a little ashamed to admit that I didn't always feel that way. In fact, the first time I was eligible to vote as an adult citizen of the United States, I didn't make it to the polls. I was too busy maintaining a university scholarship while trying to squeeze in a meager social life, and voting just didn't seem very important.

I'm grateful that my wife was willing to overlook my little lapse in patriotism and marry me anyway. It's a good thing that I've got my incredible looks and big muscles, or she might have been The Big One That Got Away.

Just kidding--she also married me for my brains. But regarding that first voting opportunity I missed, my vote would have mostly been a symbolic gesture anyway. My state's voting color in that presidential election was a foregone conclusion--we are by no means a swing state--but that really doesn't matter. My apathy back then was really a symptom of a general lack of understanding.

My wife has never suffered from such a lack. She comes from a family that woke up at 6:00 AM every July Fourth for their community flag-raising ceremony. This is the real deal too; no donuts to draw the crowds, no gimmicks of any kind. It is just the bare-bones kind of ceremony where a handful of patriotic citizens huddles together by the church flagpole in the freezing morning air of a high mountain valley, to sing patriotic hymns while accompanied by a sweet, blue-haired old lady on the church's piano which has been wheeled out onto the sidewalk for the occasion, and then listen to someone with a lot of missing or gray hairs give a brief speech about freedom.

The first time I dragged myself out of bed to participate, I anticipated the moving patriotic speech that would stir the soul and make my gargantuan efforts to attend worth it. I will now quote the speech that year in its entirety:

"Well, [long pause, as a frozen breeze whipped past us] all I have to say today is that if we remember what this flag stands for, then everything else will take care of itself."

Really? That was it? THAT WAS IT? I stood there, bleary-eyed, bewildered, and shivering as the flag rose up the pole, each squeak of the cable and pulleys punctuating the abrupt silence that followed the very short speech.

I didn't want to resent being there, so instead I concentrated very hard on the strange feeling of my early-morning eye boogers being frozen to my tear ducts.

As the flag reached the top of the pole, our humble little group of patriots recited the Pledge of Allegiance, and then sang The Star Spangled Banner with much more gusto than should have been possible under the circumstances. I began to sense, again, that I was missing something in my life--a vital piece of understanding, something my wife already had.

And now, ten years later, I know what that something is. It's exactly what that old gentleman said in his uncannily concise speech: if we remember what the flag stands for, everything else really will take care of itself. Thanks to the relentless patriotism of my wife and her family, I have picked some of that up. She has installed a flag anchor on the front of both of our houses, and she flies our flag more often than not between Memorial Day and Veteran's Day. I sometimes take it down at night if there are high winds, but she makes sure that it goes right back up when the winds calm.

Now when I see the flag, I can't help but remember the meaning behind the symbol. Our liberty--our privileges of family, of faith, of freedom--came at a cost. Men and women gave their lives so that I could get off my duff and drive down the street to the elementary school and cast my vote, even if sometimes it's only a symbolic vote. Symbols matter.

Thanks, honey, for helping me appreciate, and use, this privilege. It feels good--so good--to lose with you.

I pray we'll always have the privilege of playing the game.

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