We Need a New National Anthem

     A candle has but a tiny flame with which to pierce the darkness. It is delicate, faltering at times perhaps, and yet it has a strength beyond our understanding, for a candle cannot be diminished of its light by lighting another candle. The effect of its light can only grow stronger with each light added.
     We are human candles--candles afraid of our own flame; candles with a sense of history but no sense of destiny; candles afraid to burn with a sense of purpose, with a sense of dignity, with a sense of possibility, with a sense of vision. If, however, the darkness of intolerance is to be lifted, if human dignity is to become the true foundation of a sustainable society in a sustainable environment, then we must become candles aflame with purpose, aflame with love, hope, and charity. And we must dare to share our light, for the world can be lighted only by candles of the human spirit--one, by one, by one--beginning with me and with you.
     And how, you might ask, can we begin to share the light of our national candle? With this question in mind, it would be well to ask ourselves what we as a nation can do right now, this minute, to begin the necessary change in our thinking if we sincerely want a more peaceful and sustainable world. We can begin by adopting a peaceful national anthem that in fact reflects the "American Dream" as it is embodied in our Bill of Rights and our Constitution, instead of clinging to the outmoded, unmitigated violence of the war song "bombs bursting in air."
     I suggest a poem--"America the Beautiful"--written in 1893 by Katharine Lee Bates during her first trip out West. Bates, an English Professor and alumna of Wellesley College, published her poem in 1895, which, after a long search, was set to the music of Samuel Augustus Ward. Later, Bates would say that the poem simply came to her on Pike's Peak, in Colorado, and would insist that she "was its scribe rather than its author."
     Although "America! America! God shed His grace on thee" is a familiar line of the song, Katie Bates' lyrics include: "celebrate not the military hardware but the hopes and ideals of people who love this country." In her second stanza, she writes: "America! America! God mend thine every flaw/ Confine thy soul in self-control/ Thy liberty in law!" And in her third stanza, she writes of "heroes" who "more than self their country love/ And mercy more than life!" This is what the true "American Dream" (true democracy employed as a verb, instead of simply enshrined as a noun) must become in practice if liberty, sustainability, and justice for anyone is to be anything more than a wistful declaration of paper.
     And what, you might inquire further, do we do about the infernal bureaucratic red tape required to officially dump the glorification of war and violence of the past in favor the hope for real peace and beauty in the present, for the present and the future? It so happen that another poet, a German, Johann von Goethe has the answer:

     Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too . . . whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.

     The choice is ours. Do we continue to focus our national soul on the ugliness, brutality, and futility of war that crowned the 20th century? Or, shall we choose to shift our focus to the beauty, sustainability, and hope for peace in this, the dawning of the 21st century? If we dare to choose the latter, when do we begin to act?

In honor of Ellen Goodman, a columnist for The Boston Globe, who implanted the idea in my heart. Excerpted from my book The Perpetual Consequences of Fear and Violence: Rethinking the Future.

© chris maser 2004. All rights reserved.

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